Isabelle Yasmine Adjani, considered by many critics as one of the most acclaimed French actresses of all time and the only actress or actor in history to win five César Awards, was born 27 June 1955 in Gennevilliers, Hauts-de-Seine, a suburb of Paris.
Raised by Mohammed Cherif Adjani, an Algerian father from Constantine, working in a garage and Emma Gusti Augusta Schweinberger, a German Catholic mother from Bavaria, she grew up bilingual, speaking French and German fluently andbegan acting by the age of 12 in amateur theatre, after winning a school recitation contest.
Isabelle starred in her first motion picture, Le Petit Bougnat (1970), at the age of 14, before completing her Secondary education and joined the Comédie-Française, one of the few state theatres in France,where she came to light as a classical actress in 1971, for her interpretation of Agnès, the main female role in Molière's L'École des femmes. But soon sheleft the theatre to pursue a film career and after appearing in minor roles in several films, she tasted her first modest success in La Gifle (The Slap 1974) and attracted the attention of François Truffaut, who cast her in her first major role in his The Story of Adèle H. (1975). The film, based on the diaries of Adèle Hugo, the daughter of the famous novelist Victor Hugo, was critically acclaimed, but was a modest financial success in France.
However, for her outstanding performance in the film as Adèle Hugo,whose obsessive unrequited love for a military officer leads to her downfall, Isabelle was profusely acclaimed by the critics and her acting talents were described as prodigious. Apart from that, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, the youngest Best Actress nominee at the time, a record she held for more than 30 years.
By that time, Isabelle completed her secondary education and was auditing classes at the University of Vincennes in Paris in 1976. However,after her success in The Story of Adèle H, she was offered several roles and appeared as Stella in Roman Polanski's thriller The Tenant (1976), as Laure, a girl in love with a boxer in Barocco (1976), opposite Gérard Depardieu and as Violette Clot in Violette and François (1977).
Nevertheless, although Truffaut reportedly remarked that France is too small for Adjani and she is made for American cinema, Isabelle turned down the offer to star in films like The Other Side of Midnight, describing Hollywood as a city of fiction, but she appeared in Walter Hill’s American thriller Driver (1978), which proved to be more successful in France but did in the US.
Her portrayal of Lucy Harker in the German director Werner Herzog's remake of Nosferatu (1979), another box office success in Europe, also earned great critical appreciation. Even, the reputed film critic Roger Ebert remarked thatHerzog's casting of Isabelle Adjani in the film was one of his masterstrokes. In the same year, she also played the role of Emily Bronte in The BrontëSisters (1979), directed by André Téchiné.
Isabelle Adjani started the 1980s with a bang, when she appeared in the Merchant Ivory film Quartet (1981), based on the novel by Jean Rhys and portrayed the role of Marya Zelli, a young and stunning beauty married to a self-interested Polish art dealer, who was jailed for his illegal deals, leaving his helpless wife in penury out of the blue. For her wonderful performance in the film, she earned the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Festival and was also nominated for the BAFTA Award. She continued her winning spree, when in the same year, she appeared as Anna, a woman having a nervous breakdown in Possession (1981), a horror film of the reputed Polish film director Andrzej Żuławski. For her excellent rendition in the film,she won her consecutive Best Actress Award at the Cannes Festivaland also won her first Caesar Award.
Soon, she won her second César for her depiction of a seductively alluring, but vengeful Eliane Wieck,in the French block buster One Deadly Summer (1983). After starring inLuc Besson’s Subway (1985) and Ishtar (1987), directed by Elaine May, she took a big step in her career to co-produce and star in Camille Claudel (1988), a biopic of a talented French sculptor and an apprentice and lover of Auguste Rodin. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Isabelle earned her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role to create history as the first French actress to receive two Oscar nominations. She also received her third César for her performance in the film
During the 1990s, Isabelle received her fourth César Award for Queen Margot(1994), an ensemble epic directed by Patrice Chéreau, in which she played the role of the young Queen Margot, helplessly trapped in an arranged marriage, hopes to escape with a new lover, but finds herself imprisoned by her powerful and ruthless family. After that, she appeared in Jeremiah Chechik’s psychological thriller Diabolique (1996), as the sickly wife of the sadistic headmaster of a private school, who planned with the beautiful and equally ill-treated mistress of her husband, murdered the man and disposed ofhis body in the filthy school swimming pool. Although the film was sharply criticised as a weak remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques, one of the classic thrillers of the fifties, it proved to be a box office bomb.
Isabelle Adjani received her fifth César, the most that any actress has received, for her splendid performance in Skirt Day (La Journée de la Jupe 2009), her first film in five years. The film featuresher as a stressed-out skirt-wearing middle school teacher in a troubled French suburb, where her skirt is considered sensitive given the school's large Muslim population. Before the film was released in movie halls on 25 March 2009, it was premiered on the French Arte channel on 20 March 2009 and attained a record 2.2 million viewers.
In her personal life, Isabelle had a son with cinematographer Barnabe Nuytten in 1979. She was also involved with actor Warren Beatty from 1986 to 1987 and with actor Daniel Day-Lewis from 1989 to 1995, who left before the birth of their son. Later, Adjani was engaged to the composer Jean Michel Jarre in 2002, broke up with him in 2004, as she found him cheating behind her.
Reckoned as one of the most prolific prima donnas of the French films, Isabelle Adjaniplayed roles in English, German, and French motion pictures and has appeared in nude scenes in several movies, which includeLa gifle (1974), Quartet (1981),Possession (1981),One Deadly Summer (1983), Ishtar (1987),La Reine Margot (Queen Margot 1994) and others. For her exotic beauty, she was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the world in 1990 and after more than a decade, she was selected as the second most beautiful woman, after Monica Bellucci, by the French public on 8 November 2004, in a TV show titled La plus belle femme du monde. Shewas selected as the President of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour for her artistic contributions in 2010 and conferred on a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2014.
Isabelle Adjani was vocal against social injustice, protested against anti-immigrant and anti-Algerian attitudesin France, signed a petition in support of releasing Roman Polanski, when he was arrested in Switzerland relating to his 1977 charge for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl, even criticised Pope Benedict XVI, when he opined that condoms are not effective to prevent AIDS.