Jeanne Moreau: Enduring Allure

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“I write my own rules day by day,” Jeanne Moreau once said, and few actresses of her generation can claim to have rewritten the rules of film stardom with as much conviction. After her provocative performance in Louis Malle’s The Lovers (1958), Moreau (b. 1928) was touted as the next Brigitte Bardot, but she was always something more than an object of desire. Whether cool and cunning or frank and free-spirited, each of her characters projects a worldly intelligence; behind her heavily shadowed eyes are depths of private knowledge. As she has said, “Beyond the beauty, the sex, the titillation, the surface, there is a human being. And that has to emerge.” An accomplished stage performer who had appeared in a few B movies, Moreau was nearly thirty when Malle persuaded her to star in his first feature, Elevator to the Gallows (1958). “It was,” she later said, “the decisive moment for the rest of my life.” By the time she played the captivating Catherine in François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1961), she was at the crest of the New Wave. Moreau’s talent drew the attention of many major directors: Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Buñuel, Jacques Demy, Orson Welles. All of these artists are indebted to a woman whom Welles, with his usual combination of hyperbole and insight, called “the greatest actress in the world.” Text by Juliet Clark. Jeanne Moreau: Enduring Allure is currently on view until December 11 at the Pacific Film Archive at the University of Berkley.