PARIS — Ludivine Sagnier is the new darling of French cinema.

A photo of the actress — languidly soaking up sun by a swimming pool — can’t be avoided. It’s plastered across practically every magazine cover, bus stop and subway billboard here all in an effort to promote François Ozon’s last movie, “Swimming Pool,” the most anticipated French film to be screened at Cannes this year, in which the young actress stars opposite Charlotte Rampling. After its kickoff Sunday, the film will hit Parisian screens May 21 and open in early July in the U.S.

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Sagnier’s career started rocking with Ozon’s “Water Drops on Burning Rocks” in 1999, but it was the box-office champion “8 Women” — her third collaboration with the French director — that put the 23-year-old in the spotlight. And she managed to stand out, performing alongside the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant, Isabelle Hupert and Virginie Ledoyen.

“It served me well to play amid such a glamorous cast,” she says playfully. “I was the only unknown actress, so everyone noticed me.” In fact, Sagnier’s performance won her the Cesar — the French equivalent of the Oscar — for best young talent.

Not bad for a school dropout who took up theater at 16. “I started acting classes by chance,” she recalls. “I was not very good at school and I wanted my independence.”

In just a few years, Sagnier has become one of France’s most popular actresses. “I’ve been incredibly lucky,” she says.

And busy. In the last two years, she’s been in no less than seven films, including a Claude Miller movie, “La Petite Lili,” also screening in Cannes this year, and P.J. Hogan’s “Peter Pan,” in which she plays Tinkerbell. “It was an amazing experience,” she says of the fairy turn, Sagnier’s first American production, which is scheduled to hit U.S. screens in December.

Given her young age, the actress typically gets ingénue roles. But in “Swimming Pool,” Sagnier plays a more mature role, a provocative girl from southern France.

Sagnier herself admires sexy icons like Romy Schneider and Liv Ullman. And although she claims to live in worn jeans, it’s women of that ilk she’ll emulate on the red carpet this weekend. She is set to wear a Prada dress to walk up the Festival Palace’s stairs. “It is part of the job,” Sagnier says. “I try not to think about it too much, it is stressful.” After the Cannes frenzy, she may even be able to go relax somewhere — maybe by a swimming pool?

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