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Déborah François was born in Rocourt, Liège, a provincial town of Belgium. She is the daughter of a policeman and a social worker, and the second of their three children. She first came into contact with the theatrical world at age five when she played the role of Snow White in a local play. At school she later attended drama courses.
François grew up in Liège, which is in the French-speaking area of Belgium, and in 2005 she was discovered by two film producers (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) who gave her the principal female part in their film entitled L'Enfant – The Child. This kitchen sink drama, which takes place not far from François ’s home town in the run-down industrial town of Seraing, features a young couple, Bruno and Sonia. The couple live off social security benefits and the proceeds of Bruno's robberies – he is the head of a gang of thieves. When Sonia gives birth to a baby, Bruno cold-bloodedly sells their child to a dealer for a few thousand euros. This film was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. After her début as an actress she left school and plunged into her next film in Denis Dercourt's Thriller La Tourneuse de pages - The Page Turner in 2006 which brought her further acclaim. In the film she plays the cool and calculating butcher’s daughter Mélanie, who takes her revenge on the middle classes. Years before, she thought that her promising career as a pianist had been ruined by the carelessness of a famous pianist and member of a jury (played by Catherine Frot), so she now takes her revenge. Through a stroke of luck she manages to insert herself into the family unnoticed as a baby sitter and page turner. In this film François mimes the part of Mélanie, which won her special acclaim from the critics and for which she was awarded a César Award in 2007. In 2009 François won another César Award for her role as Fleur in The First Day of the Rest of Your Life. In that same year she was also awarded the Romy-Schneider Prize. In 2013 she was nominated for the Magritte Award for Best Actress.
François lives in Paris, France, after growing up in Liège, Belgium, where she attended the same high school as fellow actress Marie Gillain, who also features in Les Femmes de l'Ombre (as Suzy Desprez, while she assumes the role of Gaëlle Lemenech).
François said after the film L'Enfant: "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.' 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."