Home Entertainment Melanie Laurent to Star as French Trailblazing Artist Rosa Bonheur in Fabienne...

Melanie Laurent to Star as French Trailblazing Artist Rosa Bonheur in Fabienne Berthaud’s Biopic (EXCLUSIVE)


The life of Rosa Bonheur, a trailblazing feminist and artist who rose to fame in 19th century France, will be played by Melanie Laurent in a sprawling period movie directed by Fabienne Berthaud. 

“Rosa Bonheur” is being produced by Carole Scotta, Barbara Letellier and Caroline Benjo at Haut et Court, the company behind “Coco Before Chanel” and “The Night of the 12th,” which won a raft of Cesar Awards last year.

The biopic reteams Haut et Court with Berthaud following her previous films, notably Diane Kruger starrer ”Lily Sometimes,” which played at Cannes’ Director’s fortnight in 2010, and 2019’s ”A Bigger World,” starring Cecile de France, which bowed at Venice. Haut et Court will also distribute “Rosa Bonheur” in France. 

The movie will shoot on location in Bonheur’s well-preserved atelier at her Château de By in Thomery, where she worked and lived for over 40 years, alongside her partner Nathalie Micas and later with Anna Klumpke, an American painter. The key crew includes Nathalie Durand, the cinematographer of Xavier Legrand’s Venice prize-winning “Custody.” 

“Fabienne has always shed light on strong women on the margins of society, aiming to give them a voice,” said Scotta and Letellier. “Bonheur has been ignored for so long, even though she was immensely famous during her time.”

Berthaud is working closely with Katherine Brault, who bought the Chateau de By in 2017 and transformed it into a museum. Across the chateau and its attics, Brault uncovered hundreds of letters, works of art, objects and documents that have stayed intact for over a century and will be used by Berthaud for the movie. 

Bonheur, who painted animals in their natural environment with meticulous realism, was the first female artist to receive the Legion of Honor. Upon giving Bonheur the prestigious prize, Empress of France Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, declared, “Talent has no gender.” Bonheur was a rebel who never married and lived with a woman. She also wore pants, which required her to get a cross-dressing permit from the Paris police. In order to get this authorization, Bonheur argued that she needed to dress like a man to visit slaughterhouses and animal fairs to paint. 

While she was perceived as an eccentric woman, she was able to achieve fame and fortune during her lifetime, and was even embraced by royals. 

Speaking to Variety, Berthaud said the common threads between “Rosa Bonheur” and her previous movies is the bond that her characters have with animals and nature. “She gave a soul to animals, and she remains to this day a major figure of female emancipation — a woman who never made compromises and was never a courtesan,” said Berthaud, who described the project as an ode to bold women, animals and free love.

“It was rare for any artist make a living from their art, especially for a woman, but she did — she sold her paintings all over the world and bought the chateau at the age of 40,” she continued. Bonheur had vowed to never wed and worked hard to be financially independent after growing up in poverty and seeing her mother die of exhaustion, raising four children on her own. Bonheur’s father was an ambivalent figure in her life, having left his wife and children to enter the socialist Saint-Simonian movement. He came back into Bonheur’s life after the death of her mother and encouraged her to study art. 

The movie will also chronicle Bonheur’s world acclaim, including in the U.S. where she befriended William Frederick Cody, aka Buffalo Bill. Bonheur’s most iconic work, “The Horse Fair,” which is a 16-foot canvas unveiled in 1853, is currently hanging at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Reflecting on Bonheur’s international profile, “Rosa Bonheur” will shoot in French with some English dialogue. 

Laurent, who is also an outspoken feminist and activist, has been successful as a director and an actor both in France and in the U.S. She will next direct Michelle Yeoh in the thriller “The Mother” which AGC is selling at the EFM. She also helmed “Breathe,” which played at Cannes’ Critics Week, and “Galveston,” starring Ben Foster and Elle Fanning; and co-directed (with Cyril Dion) “Tomorrow,” a documentary feature exploring solutions to the climate crisis. Her acting credits include Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds,””The Mad Women’s Ball” which she also directed and played at Toronto, as well as “6 Underground” and ”Murder Mystery 2.”