Thursday, August 3, 2017

JEANNE MOREAU (1928 - 2017)


What I loved about Jeanne Moreau, the French actress who passed away on July 31st at the age of eighty-nine, was her expressive, penetrating eyes which effortlessly conveyed everything she needed or wanted to say. While not well known to the average American movie-goer, I would say she would be comparable to the great Hollywood star, Bette Davis (although I'm sure many millennials would have no idea who she is either). Like Ms Davis, she did not possess a conventional look usually associated with actresses performing on the big screen and she is the polar opposite of the icy beauty of her French acting contemporaries like Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot yet Moreau had a commanding presence that was undeniably fascinating to watch.

Moreau began her career successfully on the stage and when she was given a chance to work before the camera, they tried to transform her in to a typical screen siren. But it was director Louis Malle (who would later become one of her admiring lovers) that saw her potential and presented her in a more natural state in his feature debut, the 1957 crime thriller, "Elevator To The Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud )". This film effectively launched both their careers and Moreau would go on to work with other great film makers like Roger Vadim ("Les liaisons dangereuses"), François Truffaut ("Jules et Jim"), Michelangelo Antonioni ("La Notte"), Luis Buñuel ("Diary of a Chambermaid"), Jacques Demy ("Bay of Angels"), John Frankenheimer ("The Train") and Orson Welles ("Chimes at Midnight"). She would even get behind the camera herself and directed three films including a semi-autobiographical 1976 feature, "Lumière" and a 1983 documentary on actress, Lillian Gish.

It's not surprising that this passionate actress attracted the attention of many suitors throughout her life and in addition to Malle, she had affairs with directors Truffaut and Tony Richardson, actor, Lee Marvin, musician, Miles Davis and fashion designer, Pierre Cardin. Moreau was married briefly twice; first to filmmaker, Jean-Louis Richard with whom she had a son, Jerome and later to American director, William Friedkin.

Jeanne Moreau came at a time when cinema was changing from the glossy, perfect images from Hollywood to the realism, experimentation and youthful rebellion of French New Wave in the '60's. As an important figure during this era, she gave us many inimitable performances that will continue to mesmerize and exhilarate audiences for many years to come. I have included a few trailers to highlight some of her memorable screen appearances: