Riva won the BAFTA Award and the César Award for her lead role in Michael Haneke's Amour as Anne Laurent, and was nominated for the Academy Award for the same role. She had previously been nominated for a BAFTA Award for Hiroshima mon amour, and had won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962).
Growing up in Remiremont, Riva showed an early passion for acting, performing in plays at her local theatre, but worked for several years as a seamstress. After seeing an advertisement on a local newspaper, Riva applied to an acting school in Paris.
At the age of 26, she moved to the French capital to pursue a career in acting despite objections from her family. In 1954, she performed her first role on stage in a Paris production of George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man. In 1957, Riva made her onscreen acting debut in the TV series Énigmes de l'histoire.
Riva was cast as one of the leads in Hiroshima mon amour (1959), a film directed by Alain Resnais and written by Marguerite Duras, in which she played a French actress having an affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) in Hiroshima. Her performance gained a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Foreign Actress in 1960. Later she appeared in Gillo Pontecorvo's Kapò (1960), Jean-Pierre Melville's Léon Morin, Priest (1961) and Georges Franju's Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962), for which she won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the 23rd Venice International Film Festival. Riva also appeared in Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colors: Blue (1993), Tonie Marshall's Venus Beauty Institute (1999) and Julie Delpy's Skylab (2011).
Riva starred in the well received Michael Haneke film Amour (2012) with Jean-Louis Trintignant, playing an elderly music teacher being cared for by her husband following a series of debilitating strokes. She won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2013 for her performance, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Riva travelled to the 85th Academy Awards ceremony, which was held on her 86th birthday, but Jennifer Lawrence won for Silver Linings Playbook instead. At the age of 85 when she was nominated, Riva was the oldest ever Best Actress nominee, and the second-oldest acting nominee after Gloria Stuart, who was 87 years old when she was nominated for Titanic (1997).
Riva had an extensive theatre career in Paris. In 2001, she performed in Medea at the Festival d'Avignon. She appeared occasionally on French television. Riva returned to the Paris stage in February 2014, co-starring with Anne Consigny in the Marguerite Duras play Savannah Bay at the Théâtre de l'Atelier.
While filming Hiroshima mon amour, Riva photographed Hiroshima; a half-century later these photographs were exhibited at the Nikon Salon and were issued in book form in France and Japan. Riva was a published poet.
Riva led a private life, never married and had no children. She had a partner, who died in 1999. Riva owned a fourth-floor walk-up apartment in the Latin Quarter of Paris, and had lived there for more than half a century.
Riva died from cancer on 27 January 2017 in Paris four weeks before her 90th birthday. A memorial service was held for Riva on 4 February 2017 at Saint-Germain de Charonne church in the 20th arrondissement of Paris; she was then buried in Charonne cemetery.
|1959||Hiroshima mon amour||Alain Resnais||Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress|
|1960||The Eighth Day||Marcel Hanoun|
|Adua and Friends||Antonio Pietrangeli|
|Recourse in Grace||Laslo Benedek|
|1961||Léon Morin, Priest||Jean-Pierre Melville|
|1962||Thérèse Desqueyroux||Georges Franju||Volpi Cup for Best Actress|
|1963||The Hours of Love||Luciano Salce|
|Le gros coup||Jean Valère|
|1965||Thomas the Impostor||Georges Franju|
|1967||Risky Business||André Cayatte|
|1973||I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse||Fernando Arrabal|
|1982||The Eyes, the Mouth||Marco Bellocchio|
|1993||Three Colors: Blue||Krzysztof Kieślowski|
|1999||Venus Beauty Institute||Tonie Marshall|
|2009||A Man and His Dog||Francis Huster|
|2011||Le Skylab||Julie Delpy|
|2012||Amour||Michael Haneke||BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
César Award for Best Actress
Dublin Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
European Film Award for Best Actress
International Cinephile Society Award for Best Actress
London Film Critics Circle Award for Actress of the Year
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Lumières Award for Best Actress
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
New York Film Critics Online Award for Best Actress
Premio Cinema Ludus for Best European Actress
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—AACTA International Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Alliance of Women Film Journalists Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Dorian Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Houston Film Critics Society for Best Actress
Nominated—Irish Film & Television Awards – Best International Actress
Nominated—Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Días de Cine Awards for Best Actress
|2016||Marie and the Misfits||Sébastien Betbeder|
|2016||Lost in Paris||Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon|
|2017||La Sainte Famille||Marion Sarraut|
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