Jeanne Moreau, indisputably one of the greatest cinematic icons that France ever produced, passed away yesterday at the age of 89. Moreau was almost certainly the defining female actress of la nouvelle vague, most obviously for her portrayal of the impulsive and elusive Catherine in François Truffaut’s masterpiece Jules et Jim, who forges a close friendship with and, inevitably, a romantic rivalry between the eponymous pair of men, portrayed by Oskar Werner and Henri Serre, respectively.
There can be no doubt that Moreau belongs on the short list of actors who left a profound mark on the international cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, right alongside Mifune, Von Sydow, and Mastroianni. In 1958 Moreau appeared in two masterpieces by Louis Malle, namely Les amants and Ascenseur pour l’échafaud. During her most visible years she also appeared in Jacques Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi, Roger Vadim’s Les liaisons dangereuses, Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, Luis Buñuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid, Orson Welles’ The Trial, and many others. She appeared often in movies into her later years, winning a César in 1992 for The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea at the age of 63 and even popping up in the much-disputed romcom “classic” Love Actually more than 20 years after that.
Moreau’s world-weary visage and adeptness with a cigarette easily clinched her identity as the “intellectual’s sex symbol,” as she was called incessantly, of the day. However, it was not as if Moreau lounged with a Gitane in a cafe in all of her movies, some of which had significant risqué content, including Jean Dréville’s La reine Margot, Jean-Louis Richard’s Mata Hari, Agent H21, and Philippe de Broca’s Chère Louise.
It says something about the particular cultural currency Playboy attained in the 1960s that Moreau, three years after Jules et Jim, agreed to appear in a spread in the pages of the magazine. The pictures appeared in the September 1965 issue, when she was 37 years old.
In typical Playboy fashion, the accompanying text dances around the topic of Moreau’s, er, unlikely status as a sex symbol, stating that she “possesses few of the physical assets commonly considered prerequisites for projecting sex appeal,” even quoting a sly remark of hers to the same effect (“Beautiful? Of course not. That’s the whole point about me, isn’t it?”).
The subhead refers to Moreau as “the brooding, beguiling high priestess of French cinemactresses” LOL.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘The penis is evil!’: Sean Connery & Charlotte Rampling in ‘Zardoz,’ the Playboy spread (NSFW)