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Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne Moreau

With her mix of sultry glamour and no-nonsense wit, Jeanne Moreau has been the embodiment of intelligent French moviestardom for six decades. The Paris-born daughter of a Folies Bergère dancer and a restaurateur, Moreau started out as a stage actress at the Comédie-Française before earning supporting roles in B pictures and crime dramas in the fifties—the most often recalled now being Jacques Becker’s captivating 1954 heist thriller Touchez pas au grisbi, with Jean Gabin. Soon enough, thanks to the discerning eye of Louis Malle, Moreau was thrust into the spotlight—even if, in her breakthrough in Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows, it was the lack of a spotlight that made her stand out: Moreau’s star-making nighttime stroll through Paris was lit only by the windows along the Champs-Élysées. This unorthodox choice was a harbinger of the more casual shooting style that would define the coming French New Wave, of which Moreau would be a figurehead. Following her lead performance in Malle’s groundbreakingly explicit romance The Lovers, she provided cameos in François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Jean-Luc Godard’s A Woman Is a Woman, solidifying her status as an icon. Of course, it was Truffaut’s masterpiece Jules and Jim that cemented her place in the annals of film: her performance as the alternately coquettish and commanding Catherine made her a brainy sex symbol for the ages. In her varied and long career, Moreau has worked with such legendary auteurs as Luis Buñuel, Michelangelo Antonioni, Orson Welles (who once called her “the greatest actress in the world”), and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and she continues to work today, in films by some of contemporary cinema’s most revered names, such as Amos Gitai, Tsai Ming-liang, and François Ozon.