WATERVILLE — French actress Dominique Sanda has had dreams of traveling to Maine since 1987.

At that time, she had been working on a recording of a book penned by Marguerite Yourcenar, a French writer and essayist, who lived on Mount Desert Island. She died in her house there in the same year.

“Many times in my life I had thought I would love to see the house of Marguerite Yourcenar,” Sanda said. “I had the chance to meet her and I have good memories of that particular moment of my life.”

A few months ago, Sanda, 67, received an invitation to the Maine International Film Festival from program director Ken Eisen, stating that she had been selected as the festival’s 2018 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“It was so funny, so strange,” Sanda said. “Sometimes in life you wish something and it happens.”

For Sanda, the award itself is “the fruit on the cake.”

“I’m very honored,” Sanda said from a seat at the Waterville Opera House Sunday evening before the screening of one of her best-known movies, “The Garden of the Finzi-Conitinis,” which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1972.

The award ceremony followed the screening, where Sanda joined the list of previous achievement award winners Ed Harris, Glenn Close, Lili Taylor, Sissy Spacek, Lauren Hutton, Jonathan Demme, Keith Carradine, Walter Hill, Michael Murphy, Gabriel Byrne, Jay Cocks, Robert Benton, Peter Fonda, Jos Stelling, Arthur Penn, Terrence Malick, John Turturro, Thelma Schoonmaker, Malcolm McDowell and Bud Cort.

Audiences will be able to catch screenings of Sanda’s films “1900 (Novecento),” “The Conformist,” “Going Away,” “The Inheritance,” “The MacKintosh Man,” and “Steppenwolf” throughout the next week at the Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema.

Festival programmer Ken Eisen said Saturday after a screening of her first movie, “Une Femme Douce,” that Sanda’s film work had changed his life.

“She and the movie ‘The Conformist’ are responsible for me being here right now,” he said.

She said she plans to visit Marguerite Yourcenar’s home on Mount Desert Island this week, and see some films, of course.

Sanda, who arrived Friday after a 28-hour-long trip from Uruguay, where she has lived for about 16 years, said the reception from the guests at the festival has been warm and welcoming.

“I got the feeling that they were very interested because it’s very rare for the public to ask questions,” she said of a question and answer session Saturday evening following her film. “Everyone is very silent and shy or not interested, but it’s very rare that the people really talk and say what they’re feeling and explain what they feel, and it was really nice.”

During that session, Sanda explained how she got her start in the film industry while working as a fashion model in Paris.

“I was always going to be an actress,” Sanda said. “I am an artist. I was born this way.”

Her mother wanted Sanda to be a secretary and work for her father, but that was not a life that interested her.

“I couldn’t bear doing it,” Sanda said. “I always wanted to have an interesting life, doing anything that had to do with real art.”

When the director of “Une Femme Douce,” Robert Bresson, was looking for his lead, Sanda, 17 at the time, was set to appear in a different film by a French director. But that movie fell through.

Bresson, who Sanda said did not like working with “professional” actors, used modeling agencies to search for talent. An assistant recommended that Bresson take a look at Sanda, still unestablished in the industry, and Bresson chose her for the role.

“I am from a generation where the directors had no casting director. They were looking for their actors,” she said. “It was wonderful to be chosen by a director because it was a real choice.”

The film, adapted from Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s short story, “A Gentle Creature,” is a tragic drama in which Sanda’s character, Elle, jumps from a balcony in the opening scene, plunging to her death. The rest of the film is narrated by Elle’s husband, Luc (Guy Frangin), and tells how Elle came to kill herself.

Sanda said she immediately felt a connection with her character and credits the film for her in-demand career in the ’70s.

“It made my life wonderful, very intense,” she said. “Like a real adventure.”

Sanda is still doing work, but she is selective about what she chooses. This year she is working on a film with a Sicilian director that she says is a very interesting movie with an interesting script.

“This year I have a project to do but it depends on the moment, but I never close the door. I love what I do,” she said. “If someone wants me to do something and they think it’s important that I be there and not anybody else, I’ll go.”

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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