The Alliance Française de Melbourne is paying homage to French actress Jeanne Moreau through 6 films presented at this year's Alliance Française Classic Film Festival.
Interview with Michel Richard, the director of the Alliance Française de Melbourne.
After the first festival in 2016 which was dedicated to the blondes of French cinema, the Alliance Française Classic Film Festival
changed its course in 2017, paying homage to one of the great figures of French cinema, Jean-Paul Belmondo. Why Jeanne Moreau in 2018?
Because Jeanne Moreau passed away in 2017 and it was impossible for us not to pay homage to her. In the eyes of cinephiles the world over, she was considered the best French actress of all time. Orson Welles, with whom she shot three films and maintained a long friendship, said that she was the best actress in the world. Her longevity as an actress was exceptional, with a career that spanned 46 years and 147 films, not to mention her remarkable career in theatre and also music.
So how exactly did you manage to choose a selection of 6 films from such a rich filmography?
In this instance, it was actually quite easy. From the beginning, our preference was to select her films that were the most symbolic for various reasons. Within this selection, you can find three categories of films:
Those that entered straight into the hall of fame of cinema and that will remain there. Within this category, there are two films from La Nouvelle Vague: ‘Elevator to the Gallows’ by Louis Malle, which was a momentous success and shot Jeanne Moreau into the international spotlight. There is also ‘Jules and Jim’ by François Truffaut, a film constructed around the character played by Jeanne Moreau, and which regularly feature on lists of the 10 best films of all time. Finally, there is ‘Diary of a Chambermaid’ by Luis Buñuel, where Moreau plays a somewhat provocative housemaid.
I would describe the films within the second category to be those that every cinema lover would have seen at least once in their life. [Firstly] ‘Moderato Cantabile’ by Peter Brook, where Moreau and Jean-Paul Belmondo form an unexpected and deeply moving convincing duo. This film won Moreau the Best Actress award at Cannes and sparked a long collaboration with Marguerite Duras, who wrote the book and the screenplay for its cinematic adaption. [Secondly] there is ‘Eva’, by the American director Joseph Losey – a Franco-Italian film in English language. I make a point of this because in the 60s and 70s there were loads of international co-productions of this kind!
Finally, [a film] different to all the rest is ‘The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea’ by Laurent Heymann, which won Jeanne
Moreau a well-deserved, yet somewhat tardy, César award in 1992.
But what exactly do these films recount?
Stories obviously! Most of all, they allow us to witness an actress who fascinates her audience with the extent of her acting ability: the distraught face of Florence Carala wandering the streets of Paris in search for her lover, enveloped by the jazz music of Miles Davis; the tears and the deeply moving scream of Anne Desbaresdes who tries to relive an act of passion that she witnesses - and will probably never experience, the smile of Catherine, who loves Jules and Jim both nonchalantly and seriously; the subtle impudence of Célestine ; the evil authority concealed by Eva’s airs and graces; the elegance of Lady M and her use of vulgar slang. All of these characters paint portraits of liberated women, played by Jeanne Moreau at the peak of her artistic ability.
Do you have a favourite film?
Without doubt, ‘Eva’ by Joseph Losey, the only film in English! When Moreau shot ‘Eva’ at the beginning of the 60s, she was at the peak of her career and every director in the world wanted to work with her. The actress made use of this notoriety to let the American director Joseph Losey know just how much she wanted to work with him, which she admitted in an interview in 2008. She insisted that he join a project that was being tailor made for her. The result is fascinating: during a Venetian winter, enhanced by the photography of the well-known Gianni Di Venanzo, ‘Eva’ paints the portrait of a man whose masculinity is seriously undermined by the woman he decides to pursue. Jeanne Moreau is Eva, a venal and mysterious femme fatale, rarely seen in cinema, who does everything possible to humiliate this man who she disregards entirely. Eva rarely speaks in the film, but everything is in the body language. Why does she behave the way she does? It’s up to the viewer to decide, aided by the myriad of details added by Losey, such as the haunting tune ‘Willow Weep for Me’ by Billie Holiday, that Eva carries around everywhere with her, along with her little portable record player.
Interview conducted by Adèle Bouet
Translated by Ilaria O'Brien
In one word: what do you think it is about Jeanne Moreau that makes her such a good actress?
She isn’t faint-hearted. She is not afraid to take on difficult or even unlikeable roles. This is extremely courageous, to run the risk of not being liked by the audience! Few actresses have dared to go there. There was Bette Davis, and of course today there is Isabelle Huppert, who is the true heir of Jeanne Moreau.
For more information, and to purchase tickets for the Alliance Française Classic Film Festival, please visit: www.afclassicfilmfestival.org
Presented at the Astor Theatre from the 8 - 11 November, 2018.
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