Nouvelle vague Stars 3: Jeanne Moreau

Jean-Claude Brialy and Jeanne Moreau in The Bride Wore Black (1968)

Jean-Claude Brialy and Jeanne Moreau in The Bride Wore Black (1968)

Jeanne Moreau (b. 1928) is slightly more problematic to categorise as a star of la nouvelle vague. She was, and still is, a major international star, who began in films nearly a decade before the New Wave was established. She also had an important stage career in the 1950s. She was also 30 by the time she appeared in Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Lift to the Scaffold, 1958), the Louis Malle film often argued to herald the New Wave to come. Nothing wrong with being 30, of course, but she wasn’t the ‘young star’ of the later films.

If we do want to include Jeanne Moreau in this collection, I would argue for three factors. First would be her work with Louis Malle, with Les amants (1959) and Viva Maria!(1965) plus a smaller part in Le feu follet (1963). (She also had (very) brief cameos in other New Wave films.)

As Catherine in Jules et Jim (1961), Jeanne Moreau became one of the iconic figures of the classic period of the French New Wave, although since this was a period film she was separated from Belmondo, Brialy and Léaud as ‘young French characters in contemporary Paris’. She would appear later as ‘the bride who wore black’ in Truffaut’s film of that name in 1968.

Her third claim to New Wave status is the extraordinary range of films that she made in the 1960s, both for French directors on the outer wings of the movement (e.g. Jacques Demy, for whom she starred in La baie des anges (1963)) and directors abroad influenced by the New Wave or already established as auteurs:  La Notte (1961) for Antonioni, Eve (1962) for Jo Losey, Diary of a Chambermaid (1964) for Buñuel and two films for Tony Richardson (a Truffaut disciple?) in Mademoiselle (1966) and The Sailor From Gibraltar (1967).

Moreau was a different kind of star. I never thought of her as youthful or vivacious like Anna Karina (although she was in the early 1950s), but she was very sexy in a more cerebral way and had great depth as an actor. This clip from  Ascenseur pour l’échafaud shows her image off to perfection. That’s Miles Davis on the soundtrack and the kind of nighttime location shooting in Paris that New Wave directors prized. Moreau could be in an American film noir, but she seems a much more complex character – older, wiser, more fragile and yet more dangerous – than any American femme fatale.

And finally, Jeanne Moreau as a platinum blonde in La baie des anges


One comment

  1. omar ahmed

    Moreau had an unmistakably ‘hard’ face, it seemed impenetrable to the gaze of the spectator but I do agree with your observation that she came late to cinematic prominence. A brilliant actress of course. And it’s true, her range was impressive and perhaps even a little intimidating for other leading ladies of the time.


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