Remember When Anna Karina Was Discovered in A Bathtub?


When Anna Karina slipped into suds in 1950 to shill for Palmolive, she was another 19-year-old modeling industry waif showing up for a day of work, unsure if she’d get another. But that soak ended up being the film industry’s most transformative bath.

At the time, Karina wasn’t entirely unknown; years before while she was doing a test shoot for Chanel, none other than Coco Chanel convinced the young Dane to shed her birth name, Hanne Karin Bayer. Two weeks later, she landed on the cover of Elle.

But much about Karina’s future identity as a Parisian film icon was still a work in progress. Even her command of French‚ which was learned during hours of unemployment spent at movie marathons, was still in its most elemental phase. Karina’s one line in the Palmolive spot, “il n’est pas comme les autres,” (“it’s not like all the others”) still had a trace of her Danish lilt.

Her television spot caught the attention of then-burgeoning film director Jean-Luc Godard, who offered her a small role in his first film, Breathless. Because the role required nudity, Karina turned it down—much to his surprise. “Are you mad?” she allegedly asked Godard. “I was fully clothed in those ads, and the soapsuds went up to my neck. It was in your mind I was undressed.”

The actress’ determination to be seen as something other than an interchangeable sex object served her well. Fresh off the success of his first film, Godard invited the actress to star in his next project, Le Petit Soldat. Karina agreed, but she was still so young her mother had to be called to sign the contract.

The pair would go on to make 17 films together. They would also fall in love, marry, fall out of love, and separate—a course of events that didn’t seem to have any affect on their post-divorce creative partnerships. Throughout their working relationship, Karina proved to be the perfect foil for the director.

Together, they created some of the most iconic characters of the New Wave movement, including the dancing gangster of Band of Outsiders, the singing murder of Pierrot le Fou, and the rebellious daughter of Alphaville, which was released 53 years ago this week. Never was Karina seen without her iconic swagger, or heavily lined eyes, another indelible trademark of the era.

…In all, not a bad for an ex-pat teen soaking in a bathtub.


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