One of the most esteemed French actresses of her generation, Sandrine Bonnaire made her name playing complex and often rebellious women for such directors as Claude Chabrol, Maurice Pialat, Agnès Varda, and Patrice Leconte.
Born in Gannta, Allier, France on May 31, 1967, Bonnaire grew up in a large family, the seventh of ten children. She made her entrance into the acting world while still in her early teens, taking parts in such films as La Boum 2, the 1982 sequel to the popular coming-of-age film starring Sophie Marceau. During this time, one of Bonnaire's sisters introduced her to Pialat, who cast her as the lead in À Nos Amours. Bonnaire's portrayal of a young girl who uses sex as a substitute for love made her a star in her native country, earning a César Award for Most Promising Young Actress. Two years later, Bonnaire won her second César, a Best Actress honor for her disturbing, uncompromising portrayal of a young drifter in Agnès Varda's Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond). Bonnaire spent the rest of the decade working steadily for some of France's most accomplished directors. Highlights included André Téchiné's Les Innocents (1987), which cast her as a woman caught in the Arab subculture of a small French coastal town; Pialat's Sous le Soleil de Satan (1987), in which Bonnaire played a troubled, pregnant teenager who kills the father of her unborn child; and Patrice Leconte's Monsieur Hire (1989), an acclaimed psychological drama in which she played the unwitting object of a man's voyeuristic obsession.
For her portrayal of Joan of Arc in Jacques Rivette's Jeanne la Pucelle (1994), Bonnaire earned another Best Actress César nomination. The following year, she won more acclaim, including the Venice Film Festival's Volpi Cup, for her work in Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie, a crime drama that cast her as the mousy, dyslexic maid of a wealthy couple. Following a few more dramatic turns, Bonnaire appeared in Rivette's psychological thriller Secret Défense (1998), playing a medical researcher whose younger brother is hell-bent on getting revenge for their father's mysterious death. In 1999, Bonnaire returned to a more dramatic milieu with Chabrol's crime drama Au Coeur du Mensonge, and Regis Wargnier's Est-Ouest, a historical drama that cast her as a young woman experiencing the hardships of postwar restructuring in her Russian husband's homeland.