Remembering Jeanne Moreau – the award-winning French femme fatale actress, singer, screenwriter and director, who recently passed away at the age of 89.
By Valerie Simadis
As a teenager, one of the first foreign films I had the pleasure of viewing was La Mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black), and to me, Jeanne Moreau’s character was femme fatale personified. Standing at a mere five foot three, with flashing brown eyes, she possessed a look bold enough to rival that of Hitchcock’s “frosty blondes.”
The best thing about Jeanne Moreau’s characters is they are often reckless, committing a crime or making a harsh statement without feeling any remorse. In the film Jules et Jim, we observe as Jim gestures to a bottle, asking Catherine (Moreau) what is inside. Nonchalantly she replies, “Sulfuric acid, for the eyes of men who tell lies.”
Although Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve were referred to as Moreau’s contemporaries, they were in an entirely different class. When watching one of Bardot and Deneuve’s films, regardless of their age, they often project themselves as two giddy girls, casting coy glances at their leading man.
In the film The Bride Wore Black, Moreau is the exact opposite. The determined and sociopathic Julie lures her victim out to a balcony, innocently tossing her scarf over the railing. When the man asks her name, she retorts, “Don’t question me, get my scarf, I will answer if you get my scarf…”
No sooner does he reach over the balcony, Julie tells him her name, as she pushes him to his death.
She was colder than ice.
Jeanne Moreau accepted being cast as the femme fatale, but she didn’t want to be pigeonholed as the mindless seductress. She was a woman who exuded confidence, and in doing so, turned these characters whom we love, into women who could think for themselves. Moreau was forty when she starred in The Bride Wore Black, and the fearlessness and determination of her character transcends age and time, transforming her into an icon the audience can both love and loathe, simultaneously.
Much like the characters she portrayed, Jeanne Moreau was a self-driven woman. At the age of fifteen, inspired by the play “Antigone,” she knew she wanted to become an actress. The play was first performed during the Nazi occupation, and in an interview with AnOther magazine, Moreau stated, “It was a piece that galvanised me because it’s a young woman that says, ‘No.’”
Much to her father’s disapproval, Moreau enrolled in a theatre school in Paris, making her first stage debut at nineteen. By 1957, she starred in her breakthrough role Elevator to the Gallows, in which she and director Louis Malle became key figures in the French New Wave movement.
Concerning her personal life, Moreau refused to let the universal ‘Double Standard’ prevent her from leading the lifestyle she wanted to live. In addition to being married twice, she had numerous affairs, including with designer Pierre Cardin and actor Lee Marvin. Her affair with Director Tony Richardson was perhaps the most publicized, as Richardson left his wife (Vanessa Redgrave) for Moreau in 1967. Ooh la la!
As Jeanne Moreau said, “As long as you don’t make waves, ripples, life seems easy. But that’s condemning yourself to impotence and death before you are dead.”
Moreau continued to act until 2015, winning over twenty awards in her lifetime.
She passed away July 31, 2017 at age of eighty-nine, due to natural causes.
“When I’m acting, I’m two beings. There’s the one monitoring the distance between myself and the camera, making sure I hit my marks, and there is the one driven by this inner fire, this delicious fear.”
AnOther, Hans Ulrich Obrist
Gray, Marianne, et al. “La Moreau.” Penguin Publishing Group, 19 Feb. 1996, www.goodreads.com/book/show/161876.La_Moreau.
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