Sure, I'm tough on movies, but sometimes I'm just another gushing, adoring fan.
Such is the case with actress Catherine Deneuve, the stunning French actress who turns 70 today.
Why do I love her so? Let me count the ways.
Yes, yes -- she is beautiful. But she is also deep, strong, smart, and nuanced as an actress. And when those qualities get injected into a woman who's also stunning physically, well -- that's the sexiest, most powerful kind of beauty, isn't it?
She is a survivor. She not only keeps working but keeps making great films, putting all those aging actresses who grouse about no good roles after 40 to shame. What's her secret? She knows herself and she stays interesting.
She is fiercely private. She has the strength and principles to insist on a private life. Her career is not tied to sensationalistic stories in the tabloids.
She is not a slave to convention; she makes up her own mind. The mother of two, she has never married. (She has in fact referred to marriage as a "trap".) Yet she stayed friends with the fathers of her children (director Roger Vadim and actor Marcello Mastroianni).
She even smokes cigarettes -- still -- now that's not usually something you admire people for, but it's yet another sign that she doesn't go with the prevailing winds (no pun intended). Once she paid a fine rather than put one out. I admit I admire her defiance.
People sometimes say she's cold -- I say she's cool. Then, now and forever.
Here are some movies that prove it... more on our site.
The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (1964) -- In this kaleidoscopic musical romance, Genevieve (Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) are young Parisian lovers forced to separate when Guy gets drafted for military service in Algeria. Though they promise to stay true to each other, over time life complications intervene, specifically in the form of one Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), a well-off jeweler who can help Genevieve just when she needs it most. Director Jacques Demy's visually sumptuous masterpiece is unique in that it's all sung, with no spoken dialogue. Thanks to a magical score by Michel Legrand, the bold conceit works. Deneuve is a vision as Genevieve, a role that made her an international star overnight, and Anne Vernon also shines as Genevieve's practical yet fretting mother. Lead billing also goes to Demy's vibrant color palette, a tribute to the '50s Hollywood musicals he so loved. An ideal date movie, "Umbrellas" is a feast for eyes, ears and heart.
Repulsion (1965) -- One weekend, Helene Le Doux (Yvonne Furneaux) and boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) leave Helene's withdrawn sister Carole (Deneuve) in the London apartment they share, and we witness Carole's mental disintegration, rooted in a visceral contempt for men. Pretty as she is, it's difficult for the opposite sex to leave Carole alone, including ardent admirer Colin (John Fraser). Colin has definitely picked the wrong girl. Still, we're not sure whether Carole's deadly acts are real -- or whether they exist only in her own twisted mind. Roman Polanski's first English-language film makes for a potent shocker, as we watch a human psyche unravel, with violent implications. The young Deneuve, only a year after premiering as the picture of innocence in "The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg," is mesmerizing as the demented Carole, a tragic but terrifying creature well past the point of no return. Unsettling, first-rate psychological horror.
Belle de Jour (1967) -- Director Luis Buñuel's subtle, kinky black comedy (his first film in color) tells the bizarre story of Severine (Deneuve), a bored young woman in an arid marriage to a medical student (Jean Sorel), who seems to have repressed sadomasochistic tendencies. Her bizarre and erotic dream life begins to meld with reality as she embarks on a secret life as a high-priced call girl to feed her compulsion. And wait till you meet her clients! This unique, still fascinating film includes the director's trademark melding of conscious and unconscious imagery, as in a new and provocative context, we revisit Buñuel's signature themes: namely, the well-ordered but vacuous lives of the bourgeoisie, and the base desires lurking beneath their routinized lives and placid facades. "Belle" remains a multi-layered, hypnotic work, and Deneuve is, as always, exquisite. The fabulous Michel Piccoli also registers as a licentious type who points Severine toward her stimulating new pastime.
The Last Metro (1980) -- During the Nazi Occupation, German Jewish stage director Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) goes into hiding in the basement of the Paris theater where his wife and business partner Marion (Deneuve) has taken over the production of a Norwegian play. With the arrival of leading man Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu), a womanizer and Resistance fighter, suddenly Marion finds her heart and her loyalty divided. Deneuve and Depardieu, both giants of French cinema, have a heady match-up in "Metro," Francois Truffaut's slow, smoldering melodrama. Instead of delving into Nazi horrors, the director plays up the anguished love-triangle relationship, and examines the process of the actors as they prepare to mount a show at the famed Theatre Montmartre. Fine acting (especially by Jean-Pierre Richard, as an anti-Semitic drama critic), restrained direction, and Nestor Almendros's beautifully muted color cinematography lead smoothly to a satisfying, appropriately theatrical conclusion.
Scene Of The Crime (1987) -- In a small provincial town, disaffected teen Thomas (Nicolas Giraudi), still reeling from his parents' divorce, meets a gruff, penniless stranger while picking a sprig of oleander in the countryside. The man, Martin (Wadeck Stanczak), turns out to be an escaped convict, and demands money. Soon, he turns up at the riverside nightclub managed by Thomas's mother, Lilli (Deneuve), who falls hard for the fugitive. Andre Techine's elegantly complex crime drama, beautifully shot in the French provinces by Pascal Marti, is a fine showcase for Deneuve, always great at playing characters with an intriguing, hidden aspect. Her scenes with Danielle Darrieux, as Thomas' live-in gran, are as affecting and convincing as her more tumultuous interactions with Martin and Maurice (Victor Lanoux), the estranged husband who wants her back. Murder and sexual frisson are on the agenda, but the film's subtle look at broken-family power dynamics is just as edgy.
East/West (1999) -- At the close of World War II, Stalin invited Russian émigrés to return from abroad and summarily executed many of them. Though most of the passengers on his ship to Odessa are killed upon landing, young doctor Alexei Golovine (Oleg Menchikov) is spared and pressed into service as a medic in Kiev. His French wife Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire) is shocked at their living conditions and chafes under the repressive rules. And, as a foreigner, state informers have her under constant surveillance. When by chance Marie connects with the glamorous Gabrielle Develay (Deneuve), a traveling French actress, she sees the possibility for escape. But can she bring herself to leave her husband and son behind? This Academy Award-nominee for Best Foreign Language Film manages to generate an epic sweep, while evoking the grim claustrophobia of communal living in the Stalin era via spot-on production design and evocative camera work. Then, in the film's second half, it transforms itself into a first-rate thriller. The luminous Bonnaire is superb as the proud, rebellious Marie, who finds herself required to morph from French bourgeoisie to Russian proletarian, and Deneuve, mellowing nice, brings just the right measure of gravitas to the role of Marie's potential savior.
A Christmas Tale (2008) -- As the dysfunctional Vuillard clan gathers for Christmas, we learn that matriarch Junon (Deneuve) is seriously ill, requiring a bone marrow transplant. The only compatible family members: Junon's mentally fragile grandson Paul, and her alcoholic, ne'er do well middle son Henri (Mathieu Amalric). This situation forces an awkward reunion between Henri and older sister Elizabeth (Anne Consigny), who after settling Henri's debts years before had refused ever to see him again. Still unresolved is whether Junon will even undergo the transplant, and if so, which relative she'll choose to save her life. Arnaud Desplechin's rich, bittersweet tapestry of one complex extended family forced to confront past conflicts resonates on multiple levels: it's at once a story about mortality, unresolved familial anger, and unconsummated romance. Though dealing with intense, often painful emotions, this ambitious film is shot through with warmth and a reassuring recognition of our shared, imperfect humanity, as if to suggest: better a screwed-up family than no family at all. (Look for Deneuve's real-life offspring Chiarra Mastroianni playing her daughter-in-law. Her resemblance to her late father is uncanny.)
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