Exquisite. Seductive. Talented. Smart. Controversial. Insouciant. These words often described award-winning French actress Jeanne Moreau. Moreau, best known for her stellar performances in “Elevators to the Gallows” and “Jules et Jim,” died Monday at age eighty-nine from causes unknown and the French government is keeping most of the details under wraps for now.
The Academy Awards sent out a tweet, thanking Moreau for her contributions:
Thank you, Jeanne Moreau, for your endless talent. The actress made her mark on the French New Wave, notably in Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim.” pic.twitter.com/MIYgzholMp
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) 1 August 2017
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement that Moreau was a “theater and film legend.”
In addition to her thespian capacities, Moreau was an accomplished musician. She released several albums and even performed alongside legend Frank Sinatra at Carnegie Hall.
Since 1958, Moreau had received dozens of awards for her work, beginning with the New Cinema Award from the Venice Film Festival for “The Lovers” and ending with an honorary Cesar Award for her sixty years in the motion picture industry.
Moreau delved into French, Italian, and American cinema and her eclectic career saw her team up with such remarkable directors as Louis Malle, Michelangelo Antonioni, Joseph Losey, Francois Truffaut and Orson Welles, who referred to her as “the greatest actress in the world.” On screen, Moreau partnered with some of the biggest names the movie business ever created: Maurice Ronet, Lino Ventura, Jean Gabin, Burt Lancaster, Marcello Mastroianni and Stanley Baker.
Moreau was never frightened to play a role, no matter how degrading, iniquitous or morose the character. A despondent housewife in “La Notte,” a vengeful bride-turned-murderer in “The Bride Wore Black” ( the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill”), a sexually sadistic schoolmarm in “Mademoiselle” or a gold digging tramp in “Eve” – all were game for Moreau. She never held back.
She maximized her time whenever on screen, a trait that only a few women of her era could achieve a la Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Agnes Moorehead and Barbara Stanwyck. Moreau held audiences in the palm of her hand – man or woman. Moreau’s coquettish nature could make men worship her, Moreau’s fiendish behavior could make women loathe her, Moreau’s desolate state could make everyone sympathize with her.
Away from the camera, she was the epitome of the phrase “je ne sais quoi.” Moreau was married to filmmaker Jean-Louis Richard for fifteen years and filmmaker William Friedkin for two years. Renowned British director Tony Richardson left his charming wife, Vanessa Redgrave, in 1967 so he could be with Moreau, though the two never married. Others also fell to the charms of Moreau, including jazz great Miles Davis, directors Louis Malle and Francois Truffaut and fashion designer Pierre Cardin.
There will never be an actress like Moreau again – her generation continues to die out. At a time when sententious celebrities of today feel the need to tell you how to live, indulge themselves with scandals, and appear in dull, flaccid pictures, thespians like Moreau will be sadly missed. At least she leaves behind lasting memories and reminds us once in a while that the world at least had a talent in Moreau.
When she returns to the movie gods, she will look back at us on earth and reiterate her line from “Diary of a Chambermaid”:
It’s strange, how the country always seems sad. I guess, people don’t have much fun here.