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|Also Known As:||Died:|
|Born:||January 23, 1928||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||Paris, FR||Profession:||Cast ... actor screenwriter director|
Jeanne Moreau was the sort of talent that could generate hyperbolic labels like "the world's greatest actress," which was how no less an authority than Orson Welles described her. For a half-century, Moreau constantly set the bar for performances by female actresses with her fearless, deeply emotive and passionate turns in such bona fide classics as "Elevator to the Gallows" (1958), "Jules and Jim" (1960), "The Trial" (1961), "Diary of a Chambermaid" (1964), "The Bride Wore Black" (1968), "Querelle" (1982) and countless others. The list of legendary directors who queued up to add her earthy sensuality and versatility to their films included figures like Welles, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Luc Besson and Tony Richardson. But despite the quality of her performances, Moreau was largely unknown to mass audiences, especially in America, where she was generally regarded as an art house figure. More mainstream moviegoers knew her as Cinderella's great-granddaughter in "Ever After" (1998) than for "Jules and Jim." If the anonymity bothered Moreau, it never showed; she simply continued to give life-affirming performances well into her eighties while dabbling in work behind the camera on several occasions. Moreau was one of the few actresses whose work remained consistently top-notch for the entirety of her career, with bit parts and cameos as well-crafted as her leading roles. In doing so, she cemented her status as one of the cinema's greatest actors.
Jeanne Moreau was born Jan. 23, 1928 in Paris, France. Her father, Anatole-Désiré Moreau, was a barman and restaurateur, while her mother, Katherine Buckley, was an English dancer who had come to France to perform with the Folies-Bergére. The family moved to Vichy shortly after Moreau's birth; there, her father operated a small hotel, while his daughter attended Catholic school. Her home life was a difficult one, plagued by her father's excessive drinking and his family's shame over her mother's profession. For a period, she lived with her mother and sister in England, but with the outbreak of World War II, they were required to return to France. There, her father remained at the family home, while Moreau, her mother and sister Michelle were forced to stay in Paris, where they were required to register their whereabouts daily with the occupying Nazi forces. A committed student in her early years, Moreau lost interest in education as she became a teenager, and found her true calling in acting. To her dismay, her father forbade her from pursuing that avenue, but with typical self-determination, she skipped school at 15 to attend a performance of Jean Anouihl's "Antigone." The play convinced her that she needed to become an actor, despite her father's misgivings. A neighbor arranged for Moreau to audition at the Conservatoire National d'Art Dramatique, and within a year's time, she had made her stage debut at the Comédie Francaise.
During this period, Moreau's parents separated, and she remained in France with her father while her mother returned to England with her sister. She also became pregnant with a son, Jérome, by a fellow Conservatoire student, Jean-Louis Richard. They married in 1949, but the marriage soon fell apart due to her theater commitments. That same year, she made her screen debut in "Last Love" (1949), and would subsequently contribute minor roles to largely inconsequential films, save for Jacques Becker's terrific noir "Touchez Pas au Grisbi" ("Don't Touch the Loot") (1954) with Jean Gabin. Moreau became the toast of the Parisian theater world with Anna Bonacci's "The Dazzling Hour," in which she played two leading roles. The show was a hit, running for nearly 500 performances, and led to appearances in Jean Cocteau's "The Infernal Machine," then another two-year run in George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" before tackling Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for director Peter Brook. Aspiring director Louis Malle saw Moreau in the play and cast her in his feature debut, "Elevator to the Gallows" (1958). A major entry in the growing French New Wave movement, the thriller received stellar reviews - most notably for Moreau's turn as an alluring but doomed woman entangled in an ill-fated murder plot. The picture helped to make Moreau a star in Europe as well as among arthouse audiences in America.
Moreau and Malle soon began a personal relationship as well as a professional one, which yielded the controversial "The Lovers" (1958), about a married woman who abandoned her family for an affair with a stranger. The film encountered censorial trouble upon release, which helped its box office profile considerably, but brought an end to her relationship with Malle. For a period, she stayed away from film altogether in order to mourn the end of the romance. But upon meeting director Francois Truffaut, she suddenly found herself in demand by some of the greatest filmmakers in Europe. Roger Vadim cast her as the malevolent Madame Merteuil in "Dangerous Liasions" (1959), which broadened her international profile considerably. She then filmed a cameo for Truffaut's landmark "400 Blows" (1959) before tackling Peter Brook's adaptation of Marguerite Dumas' "Seven Days, Seven Nights" (1960). While filming that picture, her co-star, Jean-Paul Belmondo, invited her son Jérome to take a ride in his sports car. They were involved in a traffic accident that left the boy in a coma for over two weeks. He later recovered in full, but the experience forced Moreau to step away from her hectic filming schedule and devote more time to family.
She returned to filmmaking the following year with Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Night" (1960), but found herself at odds with her unsympathetic character and the film's long shooting schedule. Truffaut soon arrived with the film that would make her an international star: "Jules and Jim" (1960), with Oskar Werner and Henri Serre as lifelong friends who fall for the same woman (Moreau). Another landmark French New Wave film, "Jules and Jim" cemented Moreau's screen image as the thinking man's object of desire, alternately bewitching and innocent. Moreau became involved briefly with Truffaut before engaging in a whirlwind, five-year romance with designer Pierre Cardin, who made her his chief model. During this period, she continued to play emotionally complex women with some of the world's leading directors, including Luis Bunuel, who cast her as the lead in "Diary of a Chambermaid" (1964), and Orson Welles, who brought her to his adaptations of Franz Kafka's "The Trial" (1961) and "Chimes at Midnight" (1966), based on Shakespeare's Falstaff character. She also began working in English-language films, including Anthony Asquith's all-star "The Yellow Rolls-Royce" (1964) and John Frankenheimer's "The Train" (1964), though none of these pictures matched the prestige or acclaim of her European efforts.
In 1966, Moreau became involved with director Tony Richardson, who cast her in the highly controversial "Mademoiselle" (1966) as a psychotic schoolteacher who wreaked havoc in her small village. Pilloried in the press for its perverse sexuality, the couple nonetheless reconvened for "The Sailor from Gibraltar," with Welles and Richardson's wife, Vanessa Redgrave, who soon divorced him over his affair with Moreau. The actress' relationship with Pierre Cardin had also come to an end, and for a period, she drifted through various continental projects, none of tremendous consequence, before reuniting with Truffaut for "The Bride Wore Black" (1969), a disturbing thriller about a vengeful woman who hunted down and killed the men responsible for her husband's death. She soon set to work on Welles' "The Deep," which ground to a halt due to financial difficulties, as well as the death of its leading man, Laurence Harvey.
In the wake of the collapse of "The Deep," Moreau retreated to her home in southern France to care for her ailing father and concentrate on her singing career. Her retirement, however, was short-lived. By 1970, she was back onscreen in the American Western "Monte Walsh" (1970). Another period of intense moviemaking soon followed, with turns in Paul Mazursky's "Alex in Wonderland," (1970); "The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir" (1970), which marked the master filmmaker's final turn behind the camera; "Going Places" (1974) with Gerard Depardieu; and "The Last Tycoon" (1975) with Robert De Niro. She paused briefly that year to make her own directorial debut with "Lumiere" (1975), a drama about a week in the lives of four actresses of different ages. It received solid reviews, and she would return to more acting for Joseph Losey in "Mr. Klein" (1976) with Alain Delon before taking her second turn as director with 1979's "The Adolescent," a coming-of-age story set in France prior to World War II.
During this time, Moreau had married director William Friedkin and moved to Los Angeles. Their respective schedules soon brought the union to a close and they divorced after only a year. Moreau dove into completing her second film, and then retired to a small Paris apartment, where she again declared herself retired. In 1982, German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder lured her back into the spotlight for his controversial "Querelle" (1982). The director died shortly after finishing the film, and Moreau was left to field numerous questions and complaints about the picture's explicit homosexual content. Moreau devoted the next four years to travel and forming her own production company, Capella, which made a number of television features in the early and mid 1980s. The decade also marked the 25th and 30th anniversaries of some of her great early efforts, which spurred numerous international tributes and film festivals devoted to Moreau's career.
As she entered her sixth decade, Moreau soon found herself busier than ever, playing supporting roles in Jean-Pierre Mocky's satire "The Miracle" (1987) and a small but significant role as a government official who transformed Anne Parillaud's street criminal into an assassin in Luc Besson's "Nikita" (1990). The following year, she essayed another important bit part as a blind woman who regained her sight in Wim Wenders' "Until the End of the World" (1991) before earning a Cesar as a former society beauty-turned-con artist in "The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea" (1992). Moreau's seventh decade found her working at a pace that would tire actresses half her age. There were reunions with Antonioni for "Beyond the Clouds" (1995) and a leading role in Ismail Merchant's "The Proprietor" (1996). Her turn in 1998's "Ever After" as an elderly royal who was revealed to be the granddaughter of Cinderella was perhaps the single film in her C.V. seen by the widest audience, save for "Love Actually" (2003), which featured her in a brief cameo. Not content to rest on her laurels in her eighth decade, the new millennium saw Moreau adding opera and television commercials to her growing directorial credits while continuing to act, most notably in "Gebo and the Shadow" (2012) for centenarian director Manoel de Oliveria.
By Paul Gaita
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