French actress was thinking moviegoer's femme fatale

Jeanne Moreau, the quintessential French actress whose career blossomed with the New Wave cinema of the '60s, has died.
Jeanne Moreau's last screen appearance was in 2015.
Jeanne Moreau's last screen appearance was in 2015.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Jeanne Moreau, the sensual, gravel-voiced actress who became the face of the New Wave, France's iconoclastic mid-20thcentury film movement, most notably in Francois Truffaut's Jules And Jim, died on Monday at her home in Paris. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed by the office of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Moreau, whom journalists liked to call the thinking moviegoer's femme fatale, became a full-fledged international star in Jules And Jim in 1962, playing Catherine, the capricious, destructive object of Oskar Werner and Henri Serre's desire in a doomed menage a trois.

A successful stage actress in Paris, Moreau had a pouty, downturned mouth and circles under her eyes, and she was not generally considered photogenic.

Making a score of mostly forgettable films from 1949 to 1957, she received the standard starlet treatment by make-up artists.

It was Louis Malle who, casting her in his first feature film, Elevator To The Gallows (1958), shot her in natural light without heavy make-up, letting her hauntingly expressive face work its magic.

She went on to particularly memorable roles as Marcello Mastroianni's lonely wife in Michelangelo Antonioni's classic The Night (1961), a controlling servant in Luis Bunuel's Diary Of A Chambermaid (1964), a cold-hearted seducer in Eva (1962) and a vengeful newlywed newly widowed in The Bride Wore Black (1968).

Her awards came for lesserknown films. In 1960, she shared the Cannes Film Festival's best actress prize for her role as a murder witness in Peter Brook's psychological drama Moderato Cantabile.

In Britain, she received its equivalent of the Academy Award, the Bafta, in 1967 for best foreign actress, for her role as Brigitte Bardot's striptease partner in Viva Maria!

She finally won a best actress Cesar, France's equivalent of the Oscar, in 1992, for playing a con woman in the comedy The Old Lady Who Walked In The Sea.

Moreau spent little time in Hollywood. She starred in John Frankenheimer's war drama The Train (1964) opposite Burt Lancaster, played an ageing European star in The Last Tycoon (1976) and did a cameo as an elderly descendant of Cinderella in Ever After (1998).

The actress continued to perform into her 80s, including in a French television series in 2013. Her last screen appearance was in 2015, playing a small role as the protagonist's grandmother in Alex Lutz's comedy film Le Talent De Mes Amis.

Moreau was born in Paris on Jan 23, 1928, the daughter of the owner of a Montmartre hotel and restaurant and his British-born wife, a dancer at the Folies Bergere. Moreau decided to become an actress after watching her first play, Antigone, when she was 15. When she told her father about her ambition, he slapped her.

His opposition was an advantage in her eyes.

"It forces you towards excellence," she told a reporter for the French newspaper Le Figaro in 2001. "All my life I wanted to prove to my father that I was right."

Moreau was romantically linked to Truffaut and Malle, and had highly publicised romances with fashion designer Pierre Cardin, director Tony Richardson and actor Lee Marvin.

In 1949, she married Jean-Louis Richard, a French actor and screenwriter, with whom she had a son. That marriage lasted two years, as did her second in 1977 to American director William Friedkin.

She is survived by her son, Jerome Richard, an artist.

In a 2001 interview with The New York Times, she described her view of the human experience.

"The cliche is that life is a mountain," she said. "You go up, reach the top and then go down. To me, life is going up until you are burnt by flames."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'French actress was thinking moviegoer's femme fatale'. Print Edition | Subscribe