I thought I’d cast around for a more unusual choice and I remembered Bernadette Lafont (1938-2013) who could claim to be the first star of La nouvelle vague as the young woman whose dancer’s legs flashing beneath her billowing skirts as she cycles by fascinate the young boys in Truffaut’s short, Les mistons (1957). The film was set in her home town of Nîmes and her co-star was Gérard Blain, who also went on to star in films by Chabrol and Godard and who she married.
In 1958 she appeared with Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy in Chabrol’s Le beau serge in 1958 and then again in a smaller role alongside Jean-Paul Belmondo in A double tour for Chabrol in 1959.
The Chabrol film that I remember and which is one of my favourite nouvelle vague films, is Les bonnes femmes (1960) in which she is one of the shopgirls referred to in the title. Le godelureaux (1961) is a rare Chabrol in which she starred opposite Jean-Claud Brialy. After this she seems to have had many smaller roles in a range of films including titles directed by Louis Malle and Jacques Rivette. Later lead roles came in Nelly Kaplan’s feminist comedy, La fiancée du pirate (1969) and Truffaut’s Une belle fille comme moi (1972) and then the lead opposite Jean-Pierre Léaud in Jean Eustache’s La maman et la putain (1974).
Bernadette Lafont was still working when I wrote this post and I realise that I saw her in the romantic comedy I Do (Prête-moi ta main, 2006). She made over 120 films and had more than 50 TV credits. Not conventionally beautiful, but very definitely physically attractive, Bernadette Lafont was clearly well suited to comedy and this was perhaps her greatest strength. As the list of credits on IMDb suggests, she worked with many New Wave directors and starred with the leading men of the movement. She seems to me very ‘French’ (and no, I don’t really know what that means, it’s just an instinctive feeling!). This YouTube tribute in the form of a photo-montage gives a good idea of her roles and her star image:
A minute from Les bonnes femmes in which Bernadette looks at herself reflected on a TV screen:
Here’s the trailer for the very wonderful La fiancée du pirate:
There is a very detailed biography of Bernadette Lafont on the Internet Movie Database that is well worth reading. She is commemorated and honoured by her home town of Nîmes with a local theatre named after her: