Magazine article Newsweek International

Mathieu Kassovitz

Magazine article Newsweek International

Mathieu Kassovitz

Article excerpt

Mathieu Kassovitz is modern cinema's answer to the Renaissance man. At 28, he jolted the French film community with his groundbreaking 1995 picture, "Hate," a frank portrait of the bleak Parisian suburban ghettos that won him the Cannes Film Festival's best-director award. Since then, he has impressed audiences and critics alike with his touching film performances, most recently as the heart-melting crush in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's delightful "Amelie." Now, at 34, he has become the image of Lancome's new men's fragrance, Miracle Homme; his smiling, unshaven face graces billboards and bus stops across Europe. And come February, he will likely attain Hollywood star status when he appears opposite Nicole Kidman in the quirky romantic comedy "Birthday Girl." The film's director, Jez Butterworth, says he first noticed Kassovitz a few years ago in a small French movie called "Self-Made Hero." "He's been on my list ever since," he says. Butterworth conceived the part--a deceitful Russian friend of Kidman's character--especially for Kassovitz. For the role Kassovitz learned to speak fluent Russian, and once Miramax saw his screen test, says Butterworth, "he was in. Mathieu has such simple grace that you're on his side. I think he could be a major, major star."

His real-life upbringing provides plenty of raw material for his craft. The grandson of Hungarian-Jewish concentration-camp survivors, Kassovitz was raised in the run-down working-class Parisian neighborhood of Belleville. He hung out in suburban public-housing projects like Chanteloup, where he later filmed "Hate." Like his father, French television director Peter Kassovitz, he loved movies, and spent his days at the cinema watching American action pictures like "Lethal Weapon" and "Terminator." Straight out of high school, young Kassovitz worked as a film-set assistant. …

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