My current Top 5

My current Top 5

1/31/2010

Best Actress 1959: Simone Signoret in "Room at the Top"

Room at the Top tells the story of Joe Lampton, a young and ambitious man who tries to make it to the top by getting close to Susan, the daughter of a powerful man but he also falls in love with Alice, an older and unhappily married woman.

Everything in Room at the Top is very British – the actors, the locations, the whole atmosphere. So the casting of French actress Simone Signoret in the part of Alice was a genius idea – it perfectly underlines that Alice is a woman who sticks out from all the other people in the movie and also points out the loneliness of the character. Alice is a woman in a world that does not fit her. When she talks about her youth in Paris, it’s clear that she did not imagine that life would bring her in some English town as the wife of a British snob who (almost openly) cheats on her.

Alice is different and that differences makes her an incredibly fascinating woman. A lot of this is owed to the fact that Simone Signoret is a very unique presence of the screen. Her wonderful voice, her captivating accent and her unique beauty help immensely to give Alice all the qualities the script demands from her. Her no-nonsense and thoughtful approach to this passionate character is very unique. Simone wonderfully underplays all the emotions of Alice and gives a very subtle performance of a very passionate character.

This underplaying of Alice is the most fascinating aspect of Simone’s performance. The loneliness of her life seems to have made her a rather withdrawn woman but at the same time, Simone constantly hints that there is a very loving and living character beneath the calm surface. As another character in the movie puts it: “Alice is all woman.”

Simone Signoret’s ability to turn Alice into such a complex character is wonderful to watch. And she is also able to bring the much needed tragic quality to Alice – because Alice is a woman who is mostly sad and Simone’s sad smile is an unforgettable image. Simone is flawlessly able to show melancholy and tragic in every second of her performance but at the same time, she never overplays the sadness of the character. She doesn’t use Alice’s unhappy life and marriage to create any sympathy for her and instead, she suffers quietly inside. Despite the passion that Alice possesses, she is also a rather logical and matter-of-fact character and her suffering is only another matter-of-fact circumstance that doesn’t need any accentuation.

But Alice is also longing for love and passion. And she finds happiness in an affair with 25-year old Joe. Joe is a very complicated character. On the one hand, he likes to shout out loud that he is proud to be a member of the working class but on the other hand he tries everything to get ahead and leave this class. And he envies the rich and powerful just as much as he seems to despise them – so his love to Susan is never a real love. The only real love that Joe experiences is with Alice because with her he can be just as he is. There is no pretending between the two and Alice knows that. She knows how much their loves is worth and that she, even though she is older than him and they have to hide their love, can give him more than any other woman. Simone Signoret is able to portray this by making Alice an incredibly mature character – she is far beyond girlish romance but instead she knows life and love and what it all means. Simone wonderfully balances two aspects of Alice – on the one hand, she is mature and grown-up and it’s obvious that Joe isn’t her first lover and her quiet confidence seems to show a strong character but on the other hand her constant melancholy drive her into a state of dependency from Joe and the love she has for him goes far beyond a casual affair. Simone’s ability to mix strength with weakness and toughness with loving softness keep Alice a believable character.

To see Simone Signoret express so much with so little is amazing. She would have a lot of opportunities to show big emotions and break downs. Her break-up with Joe could have been such a scene but she chose to simply sit on a chair and talks very quiet and calm, but the viewer can see her heart breaking inside. During their whole time together she helped him to develop himself and become a better person. As the more mature and experienced of the two, she seemed to take the lead but at the same time she needed love and protection herself but he ultimately chose his own interests over her. When she tells him how wrong he is, her eyes are so reproachful that she can make Joe feel ashamed of all his behaviors without having even to raise her voice.

This voice is another big plus in Simone’s performance. Her French accent works wonderfully to turn Alice into this passionate woman whose voice sounds sad and hungry for life at the same time.

It’s an unforgettable portrayal that doesn’t need any big outbursts or break-downs – Simone's ability to show any kind of feeling or emotion only with her eyes is enough to stay in the viewer's mind.

The only thing that works against Simone is the script that unfortunately reduces Alice to one of two love-interests of Joe without any life beside him.

Still, a marvelous performance from one of the great actresses that gets

5 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

Just 4!

Oh, my heart just broke :/

joe burns said...

I think I'd give it four and a half. Really strong work! I think she'll be third on your ranking and I think Doris Day will be fifth.

Fritz said...

Well, she had a good position in my ranking and she is very close to 4,5 but she didn't quite make the cut. Still, among the woman with 4 Luises, she is more equal than most others. :-)

joe burns said...

Did you see the film Rachel Getting Married? I'm asking because I was really impressed by Anne Hathaway's performance and I hope that if you do 2008, that she gets a good spot on your ranking (unlike on Sage's). If you have, what did you think of her performance?

Fritz said...

The most actual line-ups are always difficult for me and I tend to hang behind on them for mostly some time. I haven't seen RGM yet but I can say right now that I really liked Kate Winslet in The Reader.