Catherine Deneuve: Belle De 50 Ans 

The actress on her new film, A Christmas Tale, and her long, glorious non-career

Wednesday, Nov 19 2008

Siren. Icon. Muse. You can apply any or all of those labels to Catherine Deneuve but trying to make any one of them stick is trickier than lighting a match in a rainstorm. Ask her about her five-decade career in movies and she will pointedly deny ever thinking in terms of a career. Mention the litany of top-flight international auteurs who have built films around her — Luis Buñuel, Roman Polanski and Jacques Demy, to name but three — and she responds that she has merely tried to be an instrument for realizing their visions. Raise the subject of her enduring status as a symbol of international glamour and she quickly sets you right by saying that she has few film-industry friends and enjoys spending her spare time gardening, a hobby she favors because “it’s very hard” and puts her back in touch with the earth.

But talk to Deneuve about the movies she’s made and why she made them, about being a woman of “a certain age,” or about her lifelong love for cinema, and the 65-year-old actress engages you with an intelligence and intensity a far cry from the carefully polished sound bites most “stars” dole out while promoting their latest releases. So it was that Deneuve — jet-lagged but radiant in a bright orange skirt, elegantly chain-smoking her way through a pack of ultra-slim Philip Morrises in her rooftop suite at the Bowery Hotel during last month’s New York Film Festival — held forth on her life, work and role as a cancer-stricken matriarch in Arnaud Desplechin’s just released A Christmas Tale.


click to enlarge RAINER HOSCH - Queen Catherine
  • Rainer Hosch
  • Queen Catherine

Related Stories

  • Jacques Demy and Romantic Foursomes: Your Weekly Movie To-Do List

    Friday, March 14 Beginning Friday, the Nuart is showing a restored version of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for a week in honor of the film's 50th anniversary. In this musical classic from director Jacques Demy, French megastar Catherine Deneuve plays Geneviève, an umbrella shop clerk, who falls in love with Guy, an...
  • Who Says You Can't Eat in the Bathroom? Not L.A.'s Toilet Restaurant, Magic Restroom Cafe 4

    Ambience can often draw attention to the flavor of a meal or provide a distraction. Either way, a restaurant's atmosphere has the power to influence the taste of the food itself, no matter how good (or bad) the cuisine. In the case of Magic Restroom Cafe in City of Industry, the experience...
  • Are You Ready to Vote on Weed Shop Policing?

    A proposed law that would have established policing of marijuana dispensaries statewide was essentially killed in the California legislature last week. Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML, says it's now time to take the matter directly to voters. He envisions the possibility, in 2016, of an initiative that would...
  • Porn's Condom Law Goes Down

    A proposal, dreaded by the porn industry, that would have mandated condom use for adult performers on-set throughout the state of California, was essentially defeated in the legislature today. The bill by L.A. state Assemblyman Isadore Hall would have expanded L.A. County's own mandatory condom rules to reach across the...
  • DTLA Fest Is Real

    The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved the Jay Z-curated Made in America festival, which is scheduled to take place at Grand Park and on adjacent streets. See also: All-Ages Policy at Jay Z's "Made in America" Concert Is a Terrible Idea The vote came late in the game, with the...

L.A. WEEKLY: A Christmas Tale is your second collaboration with Arnaud Desplechin following your small role as a psychiatrist in Kings and Queen (2004). What appealed to you about working with him again?

CATHERINE DENEUVE: It’s the energy that he shows toward everyone — the camera, the actors. You cannot just stay put; you are taken by this flow. It’s incredible, really incredible.

You play a character who’s dying, but who, in many respects, seems more alive than her neurotic, bickering children.

She’s a woman who presents herself to her son’s fiancée by saying, “You know, I’m the one who has the cancer,” as if it was her name. It’s cruel, but it’s quite funny at the same time. It’s a very casual house, casual people, except that they say things to each other that you’re not used to. Maybe you know that people think this way, but they don’t speak this way. In life, people try always to make things work, but here you see a mother say to her son that she doesn’t like him. And he says the same thing to her.

Starting quite early in your career, you signed on for unconventional leading roles in films by uncompromising international filmmakers, like Polanski’s Repulsion and Buñuel’s Belle de Jour. Even then, you seemed resistant to being typecast as a comely ingénue.

My curiosity for people and films started at a very early age as a moviegoer. So, I was not thinking about a career. I’ve never thought that way. When I was 22, I had seen Polanski working. I thought he was quite fascinating, and I didn’t think twice that it could be this or not be that. Anyway, I like to play a little different, extravagant part, and this was a very special part. It’s not like in America, where your agent might say, “Be careful, it could be the end of your ...”

You’ve said that a real turning point for you was when you starred for Jacques Demy in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). At the time, you already had roles in more than a half-dozen movies. Why was this experience so significant?

It was a special feel, a special atmosphere. The characters were beautiful. It was sung, like an opera. So all of a sudden it seemed that a film could be that — not only looking good and nice. It’s a very simple film but a very unusual film at the same time. [Demy] was very nice to me. It seemed to me that I was very important to him in the film, and it gave me the impression that [film] could be something more than I had thought, because I was not sure [I would] go on making films, really.

Like a lot of successful international stars, you were courted by Hollywood and made a few films there, including The April Fools (1969) with Jack Lemmon and Hustle (1975) with Burt Reynolds. I imagine you could have made more films in America if you’d wanted to.

I didn’t want to do films just because they were American and parts I would not have considered to do in my own language. I would rather do films that I find more interesting, in Europe, rather than very passive parts of European women in an American film. I like the ones I did, but I didn’t think I could stay there, and also because what I received afterward was not that interesting, apart from The Hunger.

You’re widely considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, and yet you’ve allowed yourself to age naturally on screen in a way that’s thought to be a liability for American actresses.

It’s very difficult for an actress in America, it’s true, to find interesting parts after a certain age. I’m sure even some actresses that I like very much, like Meryl Streep ... maybe she has to read more scripts, but she does very interesting films. It’s not as difficult in Europe, because men have a more mature relationship toward women — an older woman, a grown-up woman, a mature woman. I think in America, it’s like in The Graduate, you know? A mature woman and a young man is something still very taboo. There are a lot of taboos about things like that in America.

You actually appeared in two movies in the Official Selection at Cannes this year: A Christmas Tale and I Want To See, a very interesting film by co-directors Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige in which you play yourself — a famous French actress who travels to Lebanon for a charity event and asks to see the remnants of the 2006 war with Israel.

I thought it was a very good idea, and that’s why I accepted to do it. It was supposed to be a 20-minute film. There were no [scripted] dialogues. And after a week of shooting, they started editing the film and they saw they had a lot of material and maybe they should try to make a longer film. That’s how it happened.

The film seems to come from a place of genuine concern, whereas a lot of the images we see in the media of celebrities traveling to war-torn corners of the world feel somewhat self-serving.

You think so? I am sure that most of the time the people who do it are honest about wanting to see what really happens in those places. I know sometimes it can be taken another way — it depends how you accept to be photographed in those situations. But I’m sure most of the people who take their own time to go there and see how people live, how children are treated.?... I think when George Clooney goes to the Sudan, he’s doing it to show something to American people who don’t seem to be aware of the situation there. He feels very concerned, but he does it not to prove something about himself but to make a statement about a situation.

Also in Cannes, you received a somewhat odd “special” prize from the jury that was said to be for your performance in A Christmas Tale but also an acknowledgment of your career in cinema. What was your reaction to that?

They called me on Sunday, four hours before [the awards ceremony]. They said I had to come, that there was something for me. My first reaction was to say, “What do you mean?” I mean, it was one o’clock in the afternoon, and I was in the country! In the end, everything worked out well to go there. But it was a mixed feeling, because Arnaud’s film was in competition, and I had the impression that this was a way to sort of give something to the film they couldn’t give it officially. Some people on the jury probably disagreed on the film, and finally that was the way to deal with it. That’s why, when I made my speech, everything was related to the film of Arnaud. I really give everything to A Christmas Tale.

You’ve been in movies now for 50 years, and you are still making, on average, two to three films per year. What keeps it fresh for you?

I find cinema still very interesting. For me, to see a film, and to see a film and to be shown a story with actors that I like or actors that I don’t know, it’s always a discovery. I’m a great fan of films and I still go to see films in theaters. Even when I’m working, I try to see films. It’s a desire, and it’s something very important in my life. It’s still something that I’m looking for, you know? It’s like listening to music — it’s part of my life.

Reach the writer at sfoundas@villagevoice.com

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!


  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending