When Catherine Deneuve was the great muse of cinema

Catherine Deneuve Sage Femme Berlinale 2017

After the manifesto of a hundred French films artists and intellectuals last Monday, the criticisms were immediate. Given the opposition of the signatories to movements against sexual harassment unleashed after the Weinstein case, such as the #MeToo or #BalanceTonPorc initiatives in the French country, the text published in Le Monde has sparked controversy.

Among those who subscribe to this text, which speaks of “sexual puritanism” or the “right to importune”, are renowned women such as Joelle Losfeld, Catherine Millet, Ingrid Caven, Stephanie Blake, Brigitte Sy, Gloria Friedmann or Catherine Deneuve, perhaps the most outstanding of this group. In fact, it has been Deneuve who has received the most criticism, acting as head of the manifesto. He had already raised controversy with his support for Roman Polanski before the accusation of having sexually harassed a 10-year-old girl.

Already in those years, the French actress enjoyed prestige. But today, beyond her opinions, Catherine Deneuve is a living history of cinema and the most important French actress in the world. He has legendary appearances with some of the most outstanding filmmakers in the history of celluloid, including, among others, Truffaut, Buñuel, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda herself, being the muse of the cinematographic avant-garde during the sixties and seventies.

Catherine, who was not always called Deneuve, was born into a family of actors. He began his acting career in Andre Hunebelle’s ‘Le collegiennes’ (1957), at the age of just 14, under the surname of his father, Dorleac. She coined the maternal surname and began to appear in films such as ‘Les Portes claquent’, ‘L’homme a femmes’ (both in 1960), ‘Et Satan conduit le bal’ (1962) or ‘Le Vice et la Vertu’.

Deneuve, muse of the Nouvelle Vague

It will be with ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ where Deneuve would stand out at the international level. Jacques Demy’s film was the big winner at the Cannes Film Festival, where he won the Palme d’Or, the OCIC Award and the Technical Grand Prize.

In it, Deneuve plays Genevieve, a role not only notable for his performance, but also for his voice: that the film was a French cinema-style musical of the time, based on the time and in which the songs were interspersed with declamations.

His next big role will be Carol, the protagonist of ‘Repulsion’ (1965). In Polanski’s film we see a Catherine Deneuve who shines on screen as a diva and erotic myth in a memorable performance. Particularly striking is the dichotomy between sexual attraction and repulsion developed throughout the footage, which will be worth his participation in one of the most important films in celluloid history: ‘Belle de Jour’ (1967).

Eroticism and coldness

Of the actress, Luis Buñuel said that she was “beautiful as death, seductive as sin and cold as virtue”. And this phrase could perfectly define her role in ‘Belle de Jour’, one of the most outstanding films of the Aragonese director’s filmography. In it, the sexual contradiction of the one who had already flaunted in ‘Repulsion’, in the role of a young bourgeois who is a prostitute at night, intensifies.

Deneuve’s brilliant performance is not so much for interpretive flourishes, but for the sad and even hieratic of his expressiveness. This is a subtle, elegant and subtext-filled role that highlights, if possible, the legendary film, winner of the Golden Lion.

That same year, the actress will again participate in a Jacques Demy film, ‘The Young Ladies of Rocherfort’, which stars alongside her sister Françoise Dorleac in a beautiful tribute to the golden age of the Hollywood musical. In 1969, she will act for the first time for François Truffaut in ‘The Mermaid of the Mississippi’, and a year later, Jacques Demy will give her the lead role in ‘The Donkey Skin’, based on the tale by Charles Perrault.

Buñuel will once again count on the French actress for another mythical work, this time from Spanish cinema: ‘Tristana’ (1970). The director’s second return to Spain after the controversial ‘Viridiana’ (1961) was his last participation in the Spanish industry.

This time, Deneuve plays the character of Benito Perez Galdos, who recreated Buñuel on screen, and which reflects an evident vindication of the role of women in society in the face of the dominating role of men – that don Juan come to less than the one who gives life to the proud Fernando Rey.

Eroticism is still key in ‘Tristana’, but the evolution of the young woman also gains strength, which demonstrates, once again, the interpretive portent through the subtle that Deneuve dominates, passing from innocence to coldness.

In 1972, Jean-Pierre Melville will feature her for ‘Black Chronicle’, a classic of French noir. The Deneuve-Fernando Rey duo will meet again in ‘The woman with the red boots’ (1974), this time with Juan Luis Buñuel (son). That same year he will also star in ‘La gran burguesía’, his first foray into Italian cinema, where he will appear in ‘La caseta de risa’, ‘Alma perdida’ (both from 1977) or ‘Esperemos que es mujer’ (1986).

Warmth and tenderness

Again Truffaut will call Catherine Deneuve, this time for one of her most successful performances. In 1980 he co-starred in ‘The Last Subway’ with Gerard Depardieu, a beautiful story about Nazism and theater that would earn him his first Cesar award for best female performance. In the film, she plays Marion Steiner, the wife of a Jewish theatrical businessman who disappears and leaves her in charge of running the business.

Unlike her roles with Bunuel, Deneuve here boasts her acting ability, moving on to the antithesis of ‘Belle de jour’ and ‘Tristana’: from coldness and subtlety, the actress surprises with a 180 degree turn, showing in his character proximity and passion.

Without forgetting her return to British cinema with ‘The craving’ (1983), sharing the bill with David Bowie in an elegant and erotic vampire portrait, Catherine Deneuve resumes her most heartfelt and vulnerable interpretation in ‘The Place of Crime’ (1986), with a warm role as Lili Ravenel. Already in the nineties, she will participate in the Agnes Varda documentary ‘Les demmoiselles ont eu 25 ans’ (1993), commemoration of the film ‘The young ladies of Rochefort’ that the actress starred in 1967.

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