Born in Cheniménil in north-eastern France in 1927, Riva’s acting debut as one of the nameless lovers in the French-Japanese romance of Hiroshima mon amour ensured her a place in film history. This groundbreaking adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ modernistic screenplay by Alain Resnais was one of the key French films of the period and considered a milestone in cinema. She was nominated for the BAFTA for best foreign actress.
She subsequently worked with other important French filmmakers of the time, including Jean-Pierre Melville, in the occupation drama Léon Morin, Priest (1961), and twice with Georges Franju, in the literary adaptation Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962) and the 1965 film Thomas the Impostor, based on a story by Jean Cocteau.
After the 1960s, however, she worked less frequently as an actor, turning up only occasionally on screen in films such as Marco Bellochio’s The Eyes, the Mouth (1982) and Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours Blue (1993).
Following a turn in Julie Delpy’s comedy Le Skylab (2011), she crowned her career with a widely acclaimed role as an ageing woman who suffers a stroke in Michael Haneke’s piercingly sad drama Amour (2012). Playing opposite Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, Riva won a slew of awards including the BAFTA for best actress and an Oscar nomination.