She began appearing in films in the mid-1980s, though the dreadful US-Italian adventure "Hotel Colonial" (1986) did not help her career much. Galiena worked primarily in Italy for the next few years, and though she has continued to play prominent supporting roles, she graduated to leads in Fulvio Wetzl's first film, the disturbing, reflexive horror thriller "Rorret" (1988). That same year, she also played a leading role in the French-made drama "La Travestie".
Galiena studied under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio and eventually worked with directors Claude Chabrol ("Quiet Days in Clichy" 1990) and Bob Swaim ("Atlantide" 1992). The role that brought her international notice came as the eponymous beautician who marries an older man in Patrice Leconte's quietly comical, but ultimately poignant romance, "La Mari de la Coiffeuse/The Hairdresser's Husband" (1990). American art house audiences received one of their best looks at Galiena's sensuous, intelligent style in "Jamon, Jamon" (1992), in which she played the village prostitute, a great mother to a teenaged daughter in love, to the dismay of the daughter's boyfriend's parents. US TV audiences got a glimpse of the actress in the miniseries "The Nightmare Years" (TNT, 1989), but Galiena's return, after considerable European success, to English-language features was not a triumph. She appeared in the medieval segment of Bill Forsyth's time-spanning British whimsy "Being Human" (1994), with Robin Williams. Both critics and filmgoers gave the film the thumbs down. Galiena, though, gave UK cinema another chance playing a leading role as the cheated-on wife in John Duigan's romantic quadrangle "The Leading Man", with Jon Bon Jovi and Thandie Newton (scheduled for release in late 1996).