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The New Ingenue: Actress Déborah François

Belgium's Déborah François is taking the film festival circuit by storm.

The Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals may be cinematic worlds apart, but 21-year-old Belgian actress Déborah François already has managed to conquer them both. She made her acting debut in Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s “L’Enfant,” which went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2005. Now François’ first English-speaking film — “Unmade Beds,” by Argentine director-writer Alexis Dos Santos — is earning critical acclaim after screening at the recent Sundance festival. “Unmade Beds” uses an unconventional format, mixing still photography, live action and musical performances from underground British bands such as (We Are) Performance, Connan Mockasin and Plaster of Paris to narrate the intersecting lives of a group of young bohemians in a London loft.

“I kind of fell in love with the role of Vera on the spot — [it was the] kind of sex, drugs and music movie I had never done,” explains François of her attraction to the project.

And perhaps a taste of a lifestyle she never got to explore. Though the ingenue hails from the university town of Liège, she has had little time for long nights out. Since being discovered at 16, at an open casting call for “L’Enfant,” François has been launched headfirst into a string of French films.

“My life changed completely. Before ‘L’Enfant,’ I thought, I’m this lucky girl who is going to make a movie, but that’s going to be the only movie I’ll ever make,” she recalls. “I had never even been to Paris before and all of a sudden I’m around the world with festivals. It was very different from high school.”

Up next for François are Rémi Bezançon’s “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life,” a black comedy about a family of five, and Emmanuel Mouret’s farcical “Fais Moi Plaisir,” in which she plays the maid of the French president’s daughter. She likens the latter to Peter Sellers’ “The Party.”

Though she dabbles in high-wattage glamour from Vera Wang, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga for the red carpet, “I try to be as casual as I can when I am not working.” Case in point: The young actress still lives in Belgium, all the better to escape the party circuit that can become many a starlet’s downfall.

“If I go to Cannes, you have to go to parties,” she says, insisting it is not her preferred m.o. “I am not a party girl. I’m not going to VIP parties or all that bulls--t, excuse my French.”

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