Actress. Born Léonie Bathiat to a miner and his wife in the Auvergne region of France, Arletty, as she came to be known onstage and onscreen, is one of the best-known actresses in French film history. Arletty made her debut onstage acting opposite actors such as Jean Gabin. She did not act in films during the silent era, but seemed to be awaiting the arrival of sound, and made her on-screen debut in 1930 in Rene Hervil's La Douceur d'aimer. Her performance in that film was unremarkable, some might even say bad, but despite this less than promising start, she went on to make several other films immediately after, including Jean Choux's Un Chien qui rapporte (1931), Roger Le Bon's La Belle aventure (1932), and Karl Anton's Un soir de réveillon (1933). In each of these films, she gave much better performances, and it is these films that cemented her popularity as a screen actress.
   Throughout the early 1930s, Arletty's screen roles were primarily light comic parts. They ensured her status as a popular actress, if not an acclaimed one. That began to change in 1935 with her role in Jacques Feyder's Pension Mimosas, in which she played a childless woman who adopts a young boy later sought by his biological father. The role was one of Arletty's first dramatic performances, and it gave her credibility as an actress of some range. It was, however, her collaborations with two important screen icons, Sacha Guitry and Marcel Carné, that ultimately made Arletty a star. Guitry cast Arletty in three different films: Faisons un rêve (1936), Les Perles de la couronne (1937), and Désiré (1937). The first film cast her opposite Raïmu, himself a screen icon, which considerably enhanced her reputation as an actress. The film also presented Arletty as a woman of the working classes, the type of role that she would later play for Carné. The second film, radical in its difference from the first, cast Arletty as the queen of Sheba. The stark contrast between the two roles again pointed to a dramatic range that previous films had not permitted. In her third Guitry film, she would again play a tough, streetwise, working-class woman, and it is this type of role with which she would become associated.
   Carné met Arletty during the filming of Pension Mimosas, where he had served as Feyder's assistant. The two became friends. Carné would go on to become a director and in 1938, he decided to cast Arletty opposite Louis Jouvet in Hôtel du nord. Arletty played the role beautifully, giving depth and dimension to the character of Renée. It was not an easy role in 1938, since it was fairly clear that Renée was a sexually available woman. Nonetheless, Arletty managed to give the character a dignity others might not have found. The film became a classic.
   Renée, however, was not the only role Carné would create for Arletty. He cast her again in 1939 in Le Jour se lève, opposite her former stage partner Gabin. In this film, Arletty played Clara, the amoral assistant to a completely malevolent dog trainer named Valentin. Arletty's greatest role under Carné's direction, however, undoubtedly came in his 1945 class film, Les Enfants du paradis, in which she plays Garance, a working-class actress in early nineteenth-century France. It is probably the role for which Arletty is best known and best remembered. Arletty made two other films with Carné, Les Visiteurs du soir (1942), in which she played an envoy of the devil, and L 'Air de Paris (1954), in which she again played opposite Gabin.
   During the late 1930s and 1940s, Arletty, by then a superstar, tried her hand at lighter roles onscreen as well. She had a number of noteworthy comic roles, including those in Jean Boyer's Circonstances attentuantes (1939) and Claude Autant-Lara and Maurice Lehmann's Fric-Frac (1939). She also did several other films, besides those with Carné, during the 1940s, the period of the Nazi Occupation of France. Those include Bernard-Deschamps's Tempêtes (1940), Roger Richebé's Madame Sans-Gêne (1941), and Boyer's Boléro (1942).
   Arletty's very open cooperation with the Nazi occupiers during the war, and particularly her open liaisons with various Germans more or less put an end to her film career after the war. She was even placed under surveillance for a number of years following the war as a result of her Occupationera activities. She managed a handful of films in the 1950s and early 1960s, including Carné's Air de Paris, and Marc Allégret's Un drôle de Dimanche (1962), in which she starred opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo. However, Arletty had so permanently damaged her reputation that the public found it difficult to embrace her as it once had. She made her final film in French in 1962.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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