Jeanne Moreau, the great French film star has left this world.
“Nostalgia is when you want things to say the same. I know so many people staying in the same place. And I think, my God, look at them! They’re death before they die. That’s a terrible risk. Living is risking.”
Moreau was the very essence of French Cinema, French life, and the French attitude. She was famously unsentimental and believed in living in the moment. She did not like the romanticizing and continued celebration of the French New Wave era that she helped define.
A director, screenwriter and singer as well as a stage and screen actor, Moreau was first noticed by movie fans for a series of roles in films considered part of the French New Wave, most famously Jules Et Jim (1962). She made Hollywood films also, including The Last Tycoon (1976) and Orson Welles’ Chimes At Midnight (1965). She was embraced by her gay fans for her work in Querelle (1982) directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and starring Brad Davis, adapted from a novel by gay writer Jean Genet.
Moreau was born in Paris in 1928. Her father was a French chef, and her mother was a cabaret dancer who performed at the Folies Bergère.
She began her acting career on stage, and became a major player at the Comédie-Française. In the late 1950s began making films, and achieved international recognition with starring roles in a pair of Louis Malle films: the noir Ascenseur Pour L’échafaud (Elevator To The Gallows) and the drama Les Amants (The Lovers) both in 1958. The films were controversial; Les Amants was subject of an obscenity case in the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1960, Moreau won the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Peter Brook’s Seven Days… Seven Nights. She won many other awards including a BAFTA Award for Viva Maria! (1965), and the César Award for The Old Lady Who Walked In The Sea (1992).
It was Jules Et Jim that made Moreau an international star. Directed by François Truffaut, the stylish film is set during WW I and is the story a love triangle between Moreau’s character, Catherine, and friends Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre). It remains hugely influential, becoming synonymous with the French New Wave movement and regularly appearing on Best Films Of All Time lists.
She made more than 75 films in a career that lasted six and a half decades. Her final feature film was O Gebo E A Sombra (Gebo And Shadow) in 2012, playing opposite the great Claudia Cardinale. It was directed by Manoel de Oliveira , who was 103-years-old when it was made.
Moreau had strong and lasting friendships with prominent writers: Jean Cocteau, Jean Genet, Henry Miller and Marguerite Duras. She was married to filmmaker Jean-Louis Richard (1949–1964) and then to American film director William Friedkin (1977–1979). Bisexual director Tony Richardson left his wife, Vanessa Redgrave, for her in 1967, but they never married. She also had affairs with Malle and Truffaut, fashion designer Pierre Cardin, and jazz musician Miles Davis.
She was a good friend of Sharon Stone, who presented an American Academy Of Motion Pictures life tribute to Moreau in 1998. Orson Welles called her “The Greatest Actress In The world”.
Moreau was 89-years-old yesterday when her final credits rolled last night.