R.I.P Jeanne Moreau (1928 – 2017). One of the greatest actresses of our time has recently passed away, Jeanne Moreau, whose entrancing downcast glamour, husky voice and sensuality became iconic to the European art films of the 1960s and indeed was universally recognised as the iconographic embodiment of the French New Wave cinema. Moreau’s sheer dramaturgical intelligence, subtlety and captivating presence shone through her distinguished career and her splendid collaborations with Luis Bunuel, Francoise Truffaut, Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Michelangelo Antonioni , Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Joseph Losey and many others over a seven decade film and theatre career. She was, for Orson Welles, one of cinema’s ‘king actors’ who regarded cinema as life itself. Central to Moreau’s aphoristic intelligence were wit and penetrating existential awareness of life’s unpredictable beauty, fragility and ontological complexities.
|Jules et Jim|
Moreau’s undiminishing piercing beauty, existential vulnerability and a hugely pronounced questing drive and intelligence to question our own mainstream behavioural and moral orthodoxies, meant she had an elaborate curiosity about life’s a-categorical pleasures, truths and an unbridled capacity to surprise us and our comfort-zone certainties about what we are capable of believing and doing and how to live beyond our daily clichés.
Actor, singer, director, and screenwriter (Moreau directed two features in the late 1970s, Lumière  and L’Adolescente she won many awards during her illustrious career: including the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress for Moderato Cantabile/Seven Days….. Seven Nights (1960), the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress for Viva Maria (1965) and the Cesar Award for Best Actress for La Veille qui marchait dans la mer/The Old Lady Who Walked in The Sea (1992) and she also won several lifetime awards, including a BAFTA Fellowship in 1996.
Despite her father’s objection to Moreau becoming an actress, she had her theatrical debut in 1947, and by the mid 1950s she became one of the significant actresses of the Comédie-francaise. By 1949 Moreau had started playing small roles in films with numerous outstanding performances in the Fernandel vehicle Meurtres? (Three Sinners, 1950) and several years later alongside Jean Gabin as a gangster’s moll in the Jacques Becker’s classic Touchez pas au grisbi (1954).
|Lift to the Scaffold|
|Moreau and Miles Davis|
In 1949 she married Jean–Louis Richard, separated two years later and divorced him in 1964 . In 1966 Moreau married Theodoros Roubanis , the Greek actor/playboy and eleven years later she married William Friedkin . That marriage lasted two years. Moreau had a son Jerome with Jean-Louis Richard. Also, it should be noted, that Tony Richardson, the English director, left Vanessa Redgraves for Moreau in 1967 but they never actually married. Moreau had affairs with Malle, Truffaut, Lee Marvin and Pierre Cardin as well.
Moreau herself was born in Paris, her father Anatole-Desire Moreau (died 1975) was a French restaurateur and her mother was actually English, Katherine (nee Buckley) , a dancer at the Folies Bergère ( died 1990). By the age of sixteen Moreau had lost interest in school and after attending a performance of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone she found her calling as an actress. Her parents separated whilst she was a student later at the Conservatoire de Paris and after 24 difficult years her mother returned to England with Moreau’s sister Michelle.
|Bay of Angels|
Moreau’s acting found its highest point perhaps in terms of eroticism and the dark erotic comedy in Luis Bunuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid (1964) where the actress as the maid Celestine uses her diabolical manipulative sensuality to control everything around her.
|Falstaff/Chimes at Midnight|
Clearly, Moreau’s rare candid sensuality and worldly self- assurance were highlighted throughout her various mesmerising performances in the films of Orson Welles, Luis Bunuel, Truffaut, Losey, Renoir, Demy, etc., indicating that she was ( without any convenient exaggeration ) the muse to so many of the key auteurs of world cinema.
Moreau was critical of the attitude that glorified cinema as the alpha and omega of human existence. She was against the nostalgic glorification of the New Wave as an end in itself; for this actress had an immense critical scepticism about the mythologising flim flam of cinema in our lives. Life more than anything else, including cinema, was the important thing to value through one’s life journey. Certainly, the arts for this actress, represented freedom and she lived accordingly to this fundamental belief of hers, but what ultimately mattered for her was the realisation that “the life you had is nothing, it's the life you have that’s important.”