Jeanne Moreau, star of Jules et Jim, dies aged 89
Art and Experience: Jeanne Moreau, the actor best known for her performance in French New Wave classic Jules et Jim, has died aged 89 at her home in Paris, her agent has said.
A director, screenwriter and singer as well as a stage and screen actor, Moreau came to prominence with a series of roles in films considered part of the French New Wave, including Lift to the Scaffold and Jules et Jim. She also appeared in a number of Hollywood films, such as The Last Tycoon and Orson Welles’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.
In a statement on Twitter, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, paid tribute to Moreau, saying that the actor “embodied cinema” and was a free spirit who “always rebelled against the established order”.
Moreau was born in Paris in 1928. Her father was a French restaurateur; her mother was a cabaret dancer from Oldham who moved to Paris in her 20s and later performed at the Folies Bergère. In a 2001 interview with the Guardian, Moreau credited her mother’s heritage with influencing her own somewhat detached personality. “People in France could see I was different from the usual actresses of that time. Maybe that’s why I attracted so many Anglo-Saxon directors like Orson Welles and Tony Richardson. In French, one says ‘Ma langue maternelle est le français [my mother tongue is French].’ But I say: ‘Ma langue maternelle est l’anglais.’ My feminine side is English,” she said.
Moreau began her acting career on stage, and became a leading figure in the Comédie-Française. In the 1950s she moved to film, and achieved national recognition with starring roles in two Louis Malle movies: the film noir Lift to the Scaffold and the drama Les Amants (The Lovers). The films proved controversial, with Les Amants becoming the subject of an obscenity case in the US supreme court, yet both are now considered landmark works. In 1960, Moreau best actress prize at Cannes for Seven Days… Seven Nights.
But it was Jules et Jim that made Moreau an international name. Directed by François Truffaut, the stylish 1962 film was set during the first world war and depicted a love triangle between Moreau’s character, Catherine, and the titular Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre). Jules et Jim has proved hugely influential, becoming synonymous with the French New Wave movement and regularly appearing on best-of lists.
Moreau almost appeared in another landmark 1960s role – Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, but turned down the part. Her career continued into her later years. In 1992, she won the César award for best actress for her performance in The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea. She also directed two films of her own: Lumière (1976) and L’Adolescente (1979).
A notoriously difficult interviewee, Moreau responded with characteristic sharpness when asked if she ever felt nostalgic for the French New Wave. “Nostalgia for what? Nostalgia is when you want things to stay the same. I know so many people staying in the same place. And I think, my God, look at them! They’re dead before they die. That’s a terrible risk. Living is risking.”