French Actor Emmanuelle Riva Has Died At Age 89

by Allie Gemmill
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The final week of January 2017 has been one steeped is sadness in the world of film, for not only have we lost legendary British actor John Hurt, but we also lost French actor Emmanuelle Riva, who has died at 89. To American audiences, Riva may be largely unknown, but her contributions to film are just as important and necessary to remember all over the world, as we take time to also remember Hurt's legacy.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Riva reportedly died in a Paris clinic after a long battle with an undisclosed illness. Riva was working right up until her death, with one film due for release in 2017 and three films released in 2016. But her strong work ethic was present her entire life, if you simply look at her résumé. Riva was an international treasure, and yes, she will be missed.

Full disclosure: I absolutely love Riva. I first saw her in Hiroshima Mon Amour when I was 17 years old and her performance in that film totally riveted me. She plays a young actor filming a French movie in Hiroshima. There, she falls in love with married man. Throughout the film, they discuss their experiences during World War II, the ways in which post-war life shaped them, and how their own perceptions of life and the human condition affect them now.

It's a slow, existential, postmodern film, but it's the blueprint for many films that came after it; for example, you can see traces of Hiroshima Mon Amour in Richard Linklater's Before trilogy. Hiroshima Mon Amour also define the best qualities of Riva's later acting career. The slight pauses, the loaded looks, the attention to emotional detail: It's all there in Riva's work.

Riva was an accomplished actor, whose most famous roles (best known to cinephiles across the world) in addition to Hiroshima Mon Amour, include Three Colors: Blue and Amour. For Amour, Riva earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in 2013, making her the oldest woman to have ever been nominated in the category. Her best attributes as an actor come through in her three most famous roles (to American audiences, at least) and definitely deserve a first, second, third, and umpteenth look.

While it is by no means a competition to see who leaves behind the best or most worthy legacy, Riva's death has been slightly overshadowed in the hours after news broke by the death of Hurt. Again, this is not a competition; how morbid that would be. However, Riva's death is just as notable, just as worthy of thought and recognition, thanks to her work in film.

She lived in the truth. She gave tenderness and great care to her roles. She often took on work that was layered, deep, and thematically rich. Riva was, in short, an actor who made great films. For that, we should all take a moment to discover her — or revisit her — while we still can.