2017-08-01 16:04:55 UTC
Jeanne Moreau, Femme Fatale of French New Wave, Is Dead at 89
By ANITA GATES JULY 31, 2017
Jeanne Moreau, the sensual, gravel-voiced actress who became the face of the New
Wave, Frances iconoclastic mid-20th-century film movement, most notably in
François Truffauts Jules and Jim, died on Monday at her home in Paris. She
Her death was confirmed by the office of President Emmanuel Macron.
Ms. Moreau, whom journalists liked to call the thinking moviegoers femme
fatale, first came to American audiences attention in Louis Malles 1958 drama
The Lovers. The film included a lengthy love scene in which Ms. Moreau,
playing a bored housewife having an affair, enacted a clearly orgasmic moment,
considered scandalous at the time.
It was four years later, in Jules and Jim, that she became a full-fledged
international star, playing Catherine, the capricious, destructive object of
Oskar Werner and Henri Serres desire in a doomed ménage à trois.
A successful stage actress in Paris, Ms. 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 makeup artists. It was Malle who, casting her in
his first feature film, Elevator to the Gallows, shot her in natural light
without heavy makeup, letting her hauntingly expressive face work its magic.
Ms. Moreau went on to particularly memorable roles as Marcello Mastroiannis
lonely wife in Michelangelo Antonionis classic The Night (1961), a
controlling servant in Luis Buñuels Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), a
coldhearted seducer in Eva (1962) and a vengeful newly wed-newly widowed in
The Bride Wore Black (1968).
Her awards came for lesser-known films. In 1960, she shared the Cannes Film
Festivals best actress prize for her role as a murder witness in Peter Brooks
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 Bardots striptease partner in Viva Maria! And she
finally won a best actress César, Frances equivalent of the Oscar, in 1992, for
playing a con woman in the comedy The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea.
Ms. Moreau spent little time in Hollywood. She starred in John Frankenheimers
war drama The Train (1964) opposite Burt Lancaster, played an aging European
star in The Last Tycoon (1976) and did a cameo as an elderly descendant of
Cinderella in Ever After (1998). She was directed by Orson Welles at least
four times, all in European productions.
Ms. Moreau continued to perform into her 80s. Her last screen appearance was in
2015, playing a small role (she had sought it out) as the protagonists
grandmother in Alex Lutzs film comedy Le Talent de Mes Amis.
Ms. Moreau also acted onstage, winning in 1988 the Molière award in France for
her performance in Le Récit de la Servante Zerline, and she had a singing
career, releasing several albums. She directed three films, including a 1983
documentary about the silent-screen star Lillian Gish.
Ms. Moreau was made an officer of the Legion of Honor and was the first woman
inducted into the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
Mr. Macron, the French president, said in a statement on Monday: We could say
about Jeanne Moreau that a part of cinema legend is gone. But her whole work was
precisely about never freezing her art into a mythology, and never locking
herself into the respectable status of the great actress. She had in her eye a
sparkle that deflected deference and inspired insolence, freedom, the turbulence
of life that she liked so much and that she will long make us like.
Jeanne 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 Bergère. Ms. Moreau decided to become an actress after seeing 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 toward 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.
She studied at the Conservatoire National dArt Dramatique and, at 20, became
the youngest-ever full-time member of the Comédie-Française, making her debut in
Turgenevs drama A Month in the Country. She later joined the Théâtre National
In 1953, she distinguished herself with that company in a production of LHeure
Éblouissante (The Dazzling Hour), by an Italian writer, Anna Bonacci. The
play involved two main characters, a wife and a mistress, and when the other
leading lady became ill, Ms. Moreau took on both roles. Fortunately, the two
characters had no scenes together.
Louis Malle cast her after seeing her in Peter Brooks 1956 Paris production of
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Ms. Moreau believed in surrendering to her directors,
requiring what she called a complete, unquestioning rapport.
The respect was usually mutual. In 1965, Truffaut told a reporter for Time
magazine, She has all the qualities one expects in a woman, plus all those one
expects in a man without the inconveniences of either.
Ms. Moreau was romantically linked with Truffaut and Malle, and had highly
publicized romances with the fashion designer Pierre Cardin, the director Tony
Richardson and the actor Lee Marvin.
In 1949, she married Jean-Louis Richard, a French actor and screenwriter, with
whom she had a son (born the day after their wedding). That marriage lasted two
years, as did her second (1977-79), to the American director William Friedkin.
She is survived by her son, Jérôme Richard, an artist.
In a 2001 interview with Alan Riding of The New York Times, Ms. Moreau described
her view of the human experience. The cliché 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 burned by flames.
Benoît Morenne contributed reporting.