I’ve been enamored with French New Wave cinema since college. Behind the cameras, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Vardas, etc. translated everyday- life into vignettes laced with spontaneous emotions. On screen, dazzling actresses such as Brigitte Bardot, Anna Karina, Catherine Deneuve, etc. played leading female characters of beauty, intelligence and complicated emotional interior.
But there was one that stood out from the rest, Jeanne Moreau. Let me tell you why.
In the 50s, while Hollywood was turning out big budget movies, in Paris, a group of young filmmakers took up handheld cameras and filmed the city’s landmark boulevards. Their stories focused on young couples, a person’s struggling to accept reality, kids committing mischief, etc. with charged poignancies.
Moreau was one of those actresses using her off-screen experience to enrich her on-screen roles. She was professional and devoted her acting, no difficult scenes ever discouraged her. As Truffaut once wrote: “Générosité, ardeur, complicité, compréhension de la fragilité humaine, tout cela peut se lire sur l’écran quand Jeanne Moreau joue.”* (Truffaut, 207; scroll down for my translation)
Truffaut was right, Jeanne Moreau was a different breed. Although she was not the most beautiful actress, but she was able to show a kind of profound complicity only a few could manage. For movies such as Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1958) or Jules et Jim (1962), Her characters placed herself between tragic love affairs ending in fatality. Through her facial expression and body language, one’s inner conflict is seen mixed with a sense of remorse and sadness.
Both on and off-screen, Moreau did exactly what she wanted. She courted her directors intimately, took roles that she deemed challenging and worthy. The beauty she exuded on-screen was more than superficial, but through her inner being. Moreau’s gracefulness showed a life lived without compromise and exterior influence of her peers.
Her talent and courageous personality are unmatchable.
*”When Jeanne Moreau plays on screen, one can see generosity, ardor, complicity, and human fragility.”