When Ingrid Bergman received her Oscar as best supporting actress for Murder on the Orient Express (1974), she concluded her acceptance speech by saying: “Please forgive me, Valentina. I didn’t mean to.” She was referring to the vibrant Italian actor Valentina Cortese, who was nominated alongside her for her role in François Truffaut’s La Nuit Américaine.
In that film, Cortese, who has died aged 96, played Severine, an ageing star who quaffs champagne while working, cannot find the right door to enter or exit, and blames her failure to remember her lines on the makeup girl. Cortese was already an established actor with the best part of her career behind her at the time of Truffaut’s inspirational casting. “A real character, extremely feminine and very funny,” he remarked of her at the time.