In the 1950s and ’60s, the French actress and singer Magali Noël was as popular as Brigitte Bardot, Annie Girardot, Jeanne Moreau and Sophia Loren in continental Europe. A striking brunette, she acted in close to 100 films and was first directed by the French cinema luminaries René Clair, Jules Dassin, Julien Duvivier, Sacha Guitry and Jean Renoir in a series of decorative roles – ingénue, chanteuse, soubrette, femme fatale – whose limitations she transcended.
Her subsequent career combined theatre and television as well as more challenging film parts. Famously, she appeared in three of Federico Fellini’s most celebrated and memorable films – La Dolce Vita, Satyricon and Amarcord – and became known as the Italian director’s muse. However, the exact nature of their relationship remained unsubstantiated. “It was a great relationship,” said Stéphanie Vial-Noël, her daughter with the actor Jean-Pierre Bernard. “Platonic or not at the start, I do not know. Federico called any time of day or night. He was like another dad for me.”
Born to French parents in the diplomatic corps, she grew up in what is now Izmir, Turkey, where she began singing in her teens. Moving to Paris in 1951, she was the wife of the popular star Bourvil in Hervé Bromberger’s gentle comedy Seul Dans Paris (Alone in Paris), and was soon appearing alongside Bardot in Le Fils de Caroline Chérie (1955), Jean Devaivre’s Napoleonic drama, and Clair’s romantic Les Grandes Manœuvres (Summer Manœuvres, 1955), as well as opposite the monstre sacré Jean Gabin in Henri Decoin’s taut thriller Razzia Sur La Chnouf (Chnouf, also 1955).
In 1956, she starred in OSS 117 N’Est Pas Mort (OSS17 Is Not Dead, 1956), Jean Sacha’s adaptation of the Jean Bruce spy novel, and enjoyed a succès de scandale duetting with the poet and novelist Boris Vian on his song “Fais-Moi Mal, Johnny” – “Hurt Me Bad, Johnny”, a proto-rock’n’roll record whose sadomasochistic lyrics proved too risqué for French radio
Her Fellini roles proved equally sulphurous, starting with Fanny, the dancer in La Dolce Vita (1960), continuing with Fortunata in Satyricon (1969) and concluding with La Gradisca, the Hollywood-fixated glamorous hairdresser who is the object of many a male fantasy in fascist Italy in Amarcord, which won a Foreign Language Oscar in 1974. Costa-Gavras cast her in his controversial political thriller Z, winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1970.
While Z and Amarcord remained her high watermarks, she easily moved into older roles and worked with Chantal Akerman, Tonie Marshall and Jonathan Demme. She took her theatrical bow in 2008 with Le Clan, her acclaimed musical homage to Vian, Jacques Prévert and Raymond Queneau.
Magali Noëlle Guiffray, actress and singer: born Izmir, Turkey 27 June 1931; married 1976 Jean-Claude Vial (marriage dissolved), secondly Jean-Pierre Bernard (one daughter, two adopted sons); died Châteauneuf-Grasse, France 23 June 2015.Reuse content