Edinburgh International Film Festival - Jeanne Moreau

This article is from 2008.

Jeanne Moreau

Renaissance woman

Jeanne Moreau was a polymath who didn’t need the movies. Paul Dale argues that European cinema wouldn’t have been the same without her

Born between the wars to an English chorus girl mother and a French restaurateur father, Jeanne Moreau was born to play what feminist film critic Molly Haskell called ‘the glorious fantasy, appealing to both sexes, to men as eternal mistress, to women as Nietzschean Superwoman.’ Actor, singer, writer and director Moreau never really needed the movies; she was a popular leading actress at the Théâtre Nationale Populaire before she made her name in cinema, but movies, and particularly the burgeoning French New Wave, needed her. It is these films that this 18-movie retrospective, which is running concurrently between the Edinburgh International Film Festival and London’s National Film Theatre, concentrates on.

Having already worked with some of the greats of French cinema (Jean Gabin, Jacques Becker, Edouard Molinaro), Moreau was 30 years old before the New Wave found a proper use for her chameleon, epicurean and sensualist charms. 1957 was a key year for Moreau and French filmmaker Louis Malle, the first of many directors to find their muse in Moreau. In that year they made a modernist film noir masterpiece called Lift to the Scaffold and the notorious sexually frank drama Les Amants.

The first film proved seminal and wholly influential on all that was to follow in European cinema. The second film was scandalous, bourgeois and, in retrospect, really rather silly, but both allowed Moreau to work with (and in some cases have carnal knowledge of) everyone from mad, bad pseudo pornographer Roger Vadim (Dangerous Liaisons), François Truffaut (Jules et Jim, The Bride Wore Black), eccentric choral master Jacques Demy (La Baie des Anges), Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel (Diary of a Chambermaid), Orson Welles (The Immortal Story) and exiled genius Joseph Losey (the brilliant 1962 melodrama Eva) among others. Many of these filmmakers wrote and spoke later of their love of Moreau’s hedonism, intuition and abandon. Spend some time with France’s real first lady and you too may be similarly smitten.

Jeanne Moreau retrospective starts Thu 19 Jun with Lift to the Scaffold, Filmhouse, Edinburgh, noon, £6.50 (£5.20).

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