Icon and iconic both apply to Catherine Deneuve. She’s not just an icon of French cinema, but cinema as a whole. She started out as Catherine Dorleac but quickly changed her name to the oh so very chic Deneuve, her mother’s maiden name. Both her parents were actors so the acting pedigree was never in doubt. Her big break came in the musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg although for most people her most significant role will be that played in Belle de Jour – a bored housewife who works as a part time prostitute in the afternoon. It is her beauty that people dwell on but this is deceiving and far too superficial. Beauty is not enough to secure an actor’s longevity and Catherine has just that. She has graced the silver screen for over fifty years and it was at fifty that she received her first and only Oscar nomination for the film Indochina. It is her beauty that draws you in and she is luminous on screen. She excels at playing characters that appear at first glance remote but scratch the surface and their torment and pain appears very real.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Genevieve Emery (Catherine Deneuve) is a 16 year old who works in her mother’s umbrella shop in Cherbourg & falls in love with a 20 year old mechanic Guy Foucher (Nino Castelnuovo). As with all epic love stories – they share a night of passion and she is pregnant and he goes off to war. 1950s was a very different time. To add to the misery – her widowed mother’s financial situation is not good and her mother pushes her to marry a different suitor who has money and can support her. She writes to Guy whilst he is off to war but as the end of her pregnancy approaches she must make the decision – does she wait for love or marry for security? The film is split in three parts and it is the final part, in the gas station when many years later Guy and Genevieve are married to different people. This scene must have influence Pollack in his seminal classic The Way We Were when Guy declines to see his daughter sitting in the car. Against this emotion are the beautiful costumes, candy colour umbrellas and the music. It is a true musical in every sense of the word. Everything is note perfect – the costumes, colour. Simply divine.
Written and directed by Roman Polanski, the film centres on the young, fragile Carol (Catherine Deneuve) who lives with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) in South Kensington. She spurns the advances of men who are drawn to her because of her beauty. Helen leaves to go on holiday with her married boyfriend for a few days, this simple event is the catalyst for a series of horrifying events as Carol’s paranoia and fears magnify in the flat and lead to a terrifying climax. Repulsion was Polanski’s first film in English and his paired down script is all the better for it. The restrained dialogue perfectly mimics the restrained and repressed central character of Carol. Whilst there is little dialogue, the claustrophobia is very present and the audience feel propelled into the warped mind of Carol who although beautiful is repulsed by men. Her behaviour is bizarre and unexplained for most of the film: throwing away Helen’s boyfriend’s toothbrush, sitting in a daze when she is at work at the beauty salon and her interaction with the dead, cooked carcass of a rabbit. After which the hallucinations begin including psycho- sexual ones of rape and cracks start appearing in the wall to emphasis the cracks in Carol’s mind. It is the very final frame that explains her bizarre behaviour. It is an almost blink and miss it moment. You have to engage your mind and really think about it. This was certainly a daring film for its time, avant grade almost. Polanski delivers at creating sheer terror and horror on screen through special effects and music. Deneuve excels as the mentally disturbed yet devastatingly beautiful Carol. This psychological horror is seen again in Polanski’s later classic, Rosemary’s Baby, and must have influence Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.
The Hunger (1983)
The very stylish and stylised vampire horror directed by Tony Scott. It tells the story of Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) as a vampire who lives with her cellist lover, also a vampire, John Blaylock (David Bowie) who one day discovers he’s ageing fast. He seeks the help of Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a specialist in anti-ageing but she doesn’t believe his story until it’s too late. When she goes to look for him, she meets the beguiling Miriam and a torrid love affair begins with far reaching consequences. Now, the criticism of this film is that there might not be as much substance as there should be. But who cares about substance when you have style. There will be few opening scenes as memorable as this one – the Egyptian symbolism, monkeys and blood and Bela Lugosi’s Dead as Bauhaus is singing “undead undead undead” Bowie and Deneuve are feasting on their next victims. It’s the use of classical music – Ravel in particular is beautiful and matches the dream like, poetic nature of the film. There are few films that perfectly encapsulate the early 80s quite like The Hunger – the clothes, people, how it was. David Bowie is the highlight in this film and provides the emotional depth it needs. It is erotic and tragic. This a vampire film for adults – not some slasher horror but an alternative look without overly dwelling on the sex or horror aspects but what it might feel like, the hunger of eternal life. Vampires have fears too. What Scott has provided in this cult classic is a glimpse into fears that vampires have just like humans – ageing.
Eliane (Catherine Deneuve) plays a widowed French woman who, along with her Father, owns a rubber plantation. When a young Vietnamese princess, Camille (Linh Dan Pham) is orphaned, she becomes the sole guardian and loves the little girl more than life itself. She is used to having affairs and flings until one man – a French navy officer, Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Perez) enters her life and changes it completely. Both women fall in love with him and he in turn will change their lives in ways they couldn’t imagine. This is a multi- layered story about the cataclysm of change – Camille’s character is a metaphor for the young Vietnam, nurtured but by the end outliving the parent, Elaine’s France and authority. France likes things the way it is, why change, why not keep it the way it was everyone is happy. Eliane demonstrates this perfectly – in her decadent behaviour with visits to opium dens. However, change is coming whether we like it or not. The cinematography is beautiful and is what adds to the epic scale of the film. There are echoes of Gone With The Wind – Eliane and Camille both displays the grit of Tara and learn to fight another day. It won the golden globe and Oscar for best film and rightly so. It is beautiful; the narrative of telling a small story that lies at the heart of this epic story of the fall of Indochine.
In this quasi drama comedy written and directed by Francois Ozon based on the play by Pierre Barillet and starring Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Deneuve), Robert Pujol (Fabrice Luchini) and Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu). Robert Pujol is taken hostage by his employees but it is the wife who he has always treated as a potiche – a trophy wife – who more than rises to the occasion to run the family company, but things do not run smoothly after Suzanne’’s ex lover Gerard Depardieu turns up. It is set in the 1970s – reminiscent of Made in Dagenham; trying to capture a moment in history with everything being rather stylised. We follow Suzanne’s journey in the film from shy trophy wife to someone who believes in themselves. At the beginning of the film her husband tells her “your job is to share my opinion” and by the end of it his is to listen to hers. This is not the usual Ozon fare; he has worked with Deneuve before in 8 femmes and here again he moves away from his usual heavy drama with a strong narrative to this rather lighthearted ball of candy floss. It looks at the feminist movement of the 1970s through the ideas of caricature and humour which isn’t at all satisfying and leave you wondering why he couldn’t have been more serious. However, it is the three principal actors who save it and make it a delight to watch.
Also in the offer:
Belle De Jour
Brand New Testament
Dancer in the Dark
Dans La Cour
Kings & Queens
Les Demoiselles De Rochefort