Tribute

‘My life feeds my art, and my art feeds my life’: French acting legend Jeanne Moreau (1928-2017)

The symbol of the French New Wave died in Paris at the age of 89.

American director Orson Welles called her “the greatest actress in the world”. She worked with some of the most iconic filmmakers, including Louis Malle, Francois Truffaut, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jacques Demy and Michelangelo Antonioni. She won a BAFTA for best foreign actress in 1967 and two César awards in 1988 and 1992 and worked for eight decades. Jeanne Moreau, the icon of the French New Wave, died on Monday, aged 89.

Born in Paris on January 23, 1928, Moreau began her career in theatre. At 20, she joined the repertory theatre La Comedie Francaise (she was the youngest performer). It was in a theatrical production of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Peter Brook, that the young Moreau was spotted by French director Louis Malle, who later cast her in four films, beginning with his feature debut Elevator to the Gallows (1958). Their second collaboration The Lovers (1958) was banned in a few countries for perceived obscenity. The movie launched Moreau’s career and cemented her as international sex symbol.

Play
Elevator to the Gallows (1958).

Moreau’s alluring beauty and mystique contributed to the dreamlike quality of Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte (1961). She embodied the emotionally distant character, and the acting felt completely natural. “To me, acting is a calling, a way of life more than a career,” she told Criterion. “My life feeds my art, and my art feeds my life. I didn’t want the destiny of a regular girl.”

La Notte (1961).
La Notte (1961).

Her most famous role came four years later in French New Wave director Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. For better or worse, Moreau’s character Catherine, who is caught between two friends, was often confused with her real self.

Play
Jules et Jim.

In a 2006 interview, the actor reflected on her collaboration with young filmmakers of the ’60s and ’70s. “I represented for them a sort of fantasy of what woman was, and they thought I could carry the burden,” she said.

Moreau was Welles’s on-screen collaborator, appearing in The Trial (1962), Chimes at Midnight (1965), and his sole colour film The Immortal Story (1968). Welles supported Moreau when she branched into direction, and made three films and made her debut with 1976’s Lumiere.

Moreau, who continued acting into her eighties, did not live in the past. “Nostalgia for what? Nostalgia is when you want things to stay the same. I know so many people staying in the same place,” she told The Guardian in a 2001 interview. “And I think, my God, look at them! They’re dead before they die. That’s a terrible risk. Living is risking.”

Play
Time To Leave (2005).

One of her most memorable later roles was in François Ozon’s Time to Leave (2005). She was initially hesitant to play the role. “I’d never played one before because usually they’re so conventional,” Moreau said. “A grandmother is not a grandmother - what does that mean? She was a child, a young girl, a lover, a wife, a mother. A human being is all that. If you take somebody and say, ‘Oh, she’s just a grandmother,’ you’re fucking wrong!”

Moreau and Ozon worked on the character’s backstory, and even though the eventual role was only 10 minutes, it was the film’s most memorable. It showed that even late into her career, Moreau had the capability to be endlessly mysterious, with eyes that spoke of many lived lives.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

When did we start parenting our parents?

As our parents grow older, our ‘adulting’ skills are tested like never before.

From answering every homework question to killing every monster under the bed, from soothing every wound with care to crushing anxiety by just the sound of their voice - parents understandably seemed like invincible, know-it-all superheroes all our childhood. It’s no wonder then that reality hits all of a sudden, the first time a parent falls and suffers a slip disc, or wears a thick pair of spectacles to read a restaurant menu - our parents are growing old, and older. It’s a slow process as our parents turn from superheroes to...human.

And just as slow to evolve are the dynamics of our relationship with them. Once upon a time, a peck on the cheek was a frequent ritual. As were handmade birthday cards every year from the artistically inclined, or declaring parents as ‘My Hero’ in school essays. Every parent-child duo could boast of an affectionate ritual - movie nights, cooking Sundays, reading favourite books together etc. The changed dynamic is indeed the most visible in the way we express our affection.

The affection is now expressed in more mature, more subtle ways - ways that mimics that of our own parents’ a lot. When did we start parenting our parents? Was it the first time we offered to foot the electricity bill, or drove them to the doctor, or dragged them along on a much-needed morning walk? Little did we know those innocent acts were but a start of a gradual role reversal.

In adulthood, children’s affection for their parents takes on a sense of responsibility. It includes everything from teaching them how to use smartphones effectively and contributing to family finances to tracking doctor’s appointments and ensuring medicine compliance. Worry and concern, though evidence of love, tend to largely replace old-fashioned patterns of affection between parents and children as the latter grow up.

It’s something that can be easily rectified, though. Start at the simplest - the old-fashioned peck on the cheek. When was the last time you gave your mom or dad a peck on the cheek like a spontaneous five-year-old - for no reason at all? Young parents can take their own children’s behaviour available as inspiration.

As young parents come to understand the responsibilities associated with caring for their parents, they also come to realise that they wouldn’t want their children to go through the same challenges. Creating a safe and secure environment for your family can help you strike a balance between the loving child in you and the caring, responsible adult that you are. A good life insurance plan can help families deal with unforeseen health crises by providing protection against financial loss. Having assurance of a measure of financial security for family can help ease financial tensions considerably, leaving you to focus on being a caring, affectionate child. Moreover,you can eliminate some of the worry for your children when they grow up – as the video below shows.

Play

To learn more about life insurance plans available for your family, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of SBI Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.