Bearing a distinctive dark-haired, porcelain-skin beauty that lent itself to the tragic heroines she frequently played, Isabelle Adjani became one of France's biggest and most acclaimed stars in the '80s, winning four Césars between 1981 and 1994. Of Algerian and German parentage, Adjani was born in Gennevillier (near Paris) on June 27, 1955. She grew up loving poetry and theater, and began acting in amateur stage productions at the age of 12 after winning a school recitation prize. Two years later, she made her film debut in 1970's Le Petit Bougnat while on summer vacation. Her second film, Faustine et le Bel Été (1972), was also made while she was still in school. At the age of 17, Adjani was permitted to join the prestigious Comédie Française, where she drew excellent audience and critical response performing the classics. She signed a 20-year contract with the troupe, which she broke a short time later to pursue her film career, and the resulting controversy was be the first of many.
In 1974, the young actress appeared in La Gifle and won the prestigious Prix Suzanne Bianchetti for Most Promising Actress. She became a bona fide star the following year, after director François Truffaut cast her as the tormented daughter of Victor Hugo in L'Histoire d'Adèle H./The Story of Adèle H., which earned her an Oscar nomination and worldwide acclaim. Many French critics, in particular, enthused over her performance, comparing her with the legendary Jeanne Moreau. Further acclaim greeted Adjani in 1981, when she won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performances in Possession and Quartet, as well as her first César for the former film.