When Emmanuelle Riva won the BAFTA for Best Actress it underscored what we’ve been saying for years — that you have to go all the way to France to find storytellers who are willing to contemplate the idea of women as whole human beings with their own arcs. It’s astonishing to me that we’re headed for yet another Oscar Best Picture win where American women are almost invisible onscreen. It’s no worse than last year, but things sure ain’t getting much better. In Europe they don’t retire women after the age of 40. In Europe, they don’t have to appeal to 13- 18-year-old boys. In Europe, they don’t hide age, or run from it, or sell their citizens endless anti-aging products. But in America, if you’re Meryl Streep and you’re working still you are one of the very few, a rare orchid in the hottie hothouse.
Now Best Actress is down to three. And each role represents a very distinct type of actress and a very distinct type of character. Riva defies everything Hollywood represents and yet has the best chance to win, it seems. Jessica Chastain plays the only part that isn’t defined by a male character. Jennifer Lawrence is the more traditionally accepted female — the love interest, the hottie with a heart of gold. All three actresses do great work. But Riva stands out for reasons that go even beyond the performances.