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Birthday Oscar for French oldest actress nominee?

Emmanuelle Riva speaks after receiving the Best Actress award during the Cesar Awards ceremony, February 22, 2013, Paris
French actress Emmanuelle Riva speaks after receiving the Best Actress award for "Amour" during the 38th Cesar Awards ceremony on February 22, 2013 at the Chatelet theatre in Paris. Riva turns 86 on Sunday -- and could end up celebrating her birthday by b

Veteran French star Emmanuelle Riva turns 86 on Sunday -- and could end up celebrating her birthday by becoming the oldest ever best actress Oscar winner.

Riva, already the oldest nominee in the category for her moving performance in Cannes-winning "Amour," could also become only the sixth actor to win an Oscar for a performance in a language other than English.

The clear frontrunners this year are Jennifer Lawrence in romcom "Silver Linings Playbook" and Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty," but Riva could still come through as a dark horse candidate.

Riva, who burst onto the big screen more than 50 years ago in "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," got a pre-Oscars boost Friday when she took best actress in a clean sweep for "Amour" at the Cesars, France's equivalent of the Academy Awards.

She had already won a number of other awards, including best actress from Britain's BAFTA awards, for her heartbreaking performance as Anne, battling senility and paralysis at the end of her life with loving but frustrated husband Georges.

"This film, I can't get over it. It's marvelous. A role like this, it can't be repeated!" Riva recently told AFP, refusing to see it as an "endpoint" to her career. "That would mean I'm at the end of it all; I sure hope not!"

For Riva, "Love" -- an intimate portrayal of an elderly couple and her character's wish to die with dignity -- is about "something very human, the most simple and natural thing. It's not a realistic film; it's a real film."

"I don't think there is another more timely and important subject than what this film talks about -- illness and death," she said.

Riva, who originally worked in stage productions, was born in 1927 in eastern France. She first worked in film with director Denys de La Patelliere in 1958.

But the following year, she earned rave reviews for her performance in Alain Resnais's "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," about a French actress who has an affair with a married Japanese architect while making an anti-war film in Hiroshima.

She then moved on to star in "Leon Morin, Priest" and "Therese," for which she won a prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1962.

Riva, not a fan of the celebrity circuit and averse to being typecast, has been selective about her film projects over the years, and has not always put herself in contention for starring roles. She also has done television work.

The actress herself acknowledged "fallow periods" in her career after refusing "too many offers."

In 1992, her performance as the indomitable matriarch in "Far from Brazil" brought her back into the minds of film lovers. A year later, she took on "Blue," the first installment of Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy.

She also appeared in Tonie Marshall's light-hearted "Venus Beauty Institute" in 1999.

In recent years, she has worked for many French directors, including Jean-Pierre Ameris, Emmanuel Bourdieu and Julie Delpy, who works on both sides of the Atlantic.

And then Oscar-nominated Austrian director Michael Haneke tapped her to star in "Amour" alongside another venerable French star, Jean-Louis Trintignant. The film won the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

If she were to win Sunday, Riva would become the sixth actor awarded an Oscar for a non-English performance.

The others are Sophia Loren for 1960's "Two Women," Robert De Niro in "The Godfather: Part II" (1974), Roberto Benigni ("Life Is Beautiful," 1997), Benicio Del Toro in "Traffic" in 2000, and Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose," 2007).

Coincidentally, the other nominees including Quvenzhane Wallis, who at nine years old is the youngest ever nominee in the best actress category, for her turn in "Beasts of the Southern Wild."