Tonie Marshall

One of the big differences between the sexes is this: men want a job, women want a project.

First an actress and then a director, the Franco-American Tonie Marshall has made an impression on the history of French cinema with her feminine work and her fantastical stories. A portrait of this committed director, who died in March 2020 at the age of 68 and remains to this day the only woman to have received the César for Best Director.

Published on 12/05/2020

2 min

Born in 1951 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the actress and director Tonie Marshall was immersed in cinema from an early age: the daughter of a director and an actress, she grew up in Paris right next to an art house cinema, the Studio des Ursulines. While a wall separated her bedroom from the projection room - allowing her to hear the sound of the films and fire her imagination - Tonie Marshall quickly got involved in the heart of the cinema, striking up a friendship with the usherette. She then discovered the films of Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard and Eisenstein.

The young cinephile first dreamed of being a dancer, then embarked on a career as an actress in the 1970s in theatre and cinema before moving on to directing with Pentimento, a burlesque comedy about overwhelming grief, in 1989.

She earned her place in history in 2000 with her film Venus Beauté (Institut) (Venus Beauty): for this she won four César awards, including the award for Best Director. To this day, she remains the only woman to have been awarded it.

Tonie Marshall never hid her commitments to women’s rights, especially in the second half of her life. As a director, she never stopped putting women at the centre. Anémone, Nathalie Baye, Catherine Deneuve, Audrey Tautou, Karine Viard…many iconic actresses accompanied her in her work, independent and unclassifiable, by portraying bright and sometimes whimsical characters.

While she mocks the beauty world in Vénus Beauté (Institut) (1999) or depicts free women –like Anémone, a detective with no romantic or family ties in Pas très catholique (Something Fishy) (1994) – or fragile women – like the melancholic and lonely Catherine Deneuve in Au plus près du paradis (Nearest to Heaven) (2002) –, Tonie Marshall uses a light touch to portray lovable personalities.

An observer of the contemporary world, this bold film maker questioned our society with Numéro une (Number One)(2017), her latest film which denounces the diminished role of women in business and society.

While her career as an actress was relatively quiet, as a director Tonie became the lead for an entire generation of film makers - including Brigitte Rouän and Jeanne Labrune - at a time when there were few women behind the camera.

On the international scene, Tonie Marshall became known thanks to Vénus Beauté (Institut) in 2000. One year after this unexpected success, the Franco-American left to shoot Au plus près du paradis in Canada and the United States.

Tonie Marshall, a major figure in cinema and a regular nominee for the César awards, sat on the juries of the Luchon Film Festival in 2015, the Lumière Festival in Lyon and the Beaune International Thriller Film Festival in 2019.

  • 1951


    Tonie Marshall is born in Neuilly-sur-Seine.

  • 1972


    She lands her first film role with What a Flash! by Jean-Michel Barjol.

  • 1989


    The actress goes into directing with Pentimento.

  • 2000


    Vénus Beauté (Institut) is crowned with four Césars. Tonie Marshall becomes the first female director to be awarded a César for Best Director.

The Institut français and the artist

Number one (2017) directed by Tonie Marshall, has been screened internationally by the Institut français. In the same film catalogue of the Institut français, you can also find her as an actress in La Campagne de Ciceron (1990) by Jacques Davila.


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