Danielle Darrieux, 1917–2017

On Film / The Daily — Oct 19, 2017

Danielle Darrieux, who turned 100 on May 1 and appeared in over 110 films, perhaps most famously in three directed by Max Ophuls, has passed away, reports the AP.

“Unlike most branded stars whose appeal can be captured in one well-chosen adjective, the multifaceted Darrieux would require the whole thesaurus,” wrote Steven Mears for Film Comment in May. “All accounts must begin with the self-possession that’s sparked every one of her performances since her debut at age 14 in 1931’s Le Bal. Not for nothing is the actress’s full name Danielle Yvonne Marie Antoinette Darrieux: she commands the screen as if born to rule, though her subjects would never think of revolting. Her stardom was solidified while still in her teens by the romantic tearjerker Mayerling (1936, her first pairing with Charles Boyer). And so she was persuaded to try her luck in Hollywood, signing a contract with Universal that yielded just one film: a made-to-order soufflé called The Rage of Paris (1938).”

“By all rights that should have started a career for her in America, but she went back to France,” wrote Dan Callahan for RogerEbert.com, also in May. Callahan’s appreciation naturally focuses on the films by Ophuls. Writing about La ronde (1950), he suggests that the “closest American equivalents to Darrieux would be Myrna Loy or Claudette Colbert, sophisticated women who knew how to hold back and survey men with tenderness and amusement. . . . In Ophuls’s Le plaisir (1952), Darrieux is a tart on a holiday in the country, a dreamer and a pouter with a beauty mark on her chin who finds herself weeping for her lost innocence when she and her fellow harlots visit a church. . . . And then Darrieux was the centerpiece in one of the greatest films ever made, Ophuls’s tragic romance The Earrings of Madame de . . . (1953).” This would be “the height of Darrieux’s career, and the various literary adaptations she made after that, like a tame and unsexy movie of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1955), did not do justice to her looks, spirit, or talent. But Jacques Demy rescued her for two films in which she sang: The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), where she wistfully but pragmatically ran a French fry stand, and Une chambre en ville (1982), where she played a haughty, tippling widow in a mature, unsparing style that suggested Darrieux no longer cared just about being liked by her audience.”

Writing about Le ronde for Criterion, Terrence Rafferty zeroes in on “Darrieux’s two wonderful scenes, the first with an ardent young paramour she’s trying—and failing—to dump [Daniel Gélin], and the second with her stuffy husband [Fernand Gravey], who, while steadfastly refusing to admit to himself that he has suspicions about her fidelity, is nonetheless a tad defensive about the on-and-off nature of their connubial relationship. In both cases, the woman winds up yielding to the man she’s with, each of them a man who falls far short of satisfying her deepest desires, and Darrieux lets you see every tiny variation in the strength of her resolve, from firm determination to what-the-hell surrender and everything in between.”

Molly Haskell on The Earrings of Madame de . . .: “The ripe little beauty from the early part of the film becomes physically wasted. In her agonizing and comical last encounter with [Vittorio] De Sica, she has rushed to warn him about the duel, knowing he no longer loves her but still daring to hope. ‘I’m not even pretty anymore,’ she says sadly. ‘You’re prettier than ever,’ he replies. ‘Really?’ Her eyes light up, with a coquetry that shows how much she is still herself. Then as quickly, ‘I’m incorrigible,’ she confesses, with an awareness that shows just how far she has come. And it also measures just how far Darrieux has come, from a doll-like ingenue in her early films to an actor capable of giving this complex performance; she’s searing, ruthless, and, yes, more beautiful than ever.”

Updates: Jean Cocteau, Claude Chabrol, Henri Ducoin, Joseph L Mankiewicz, André Téchiné, Anne Fontaine, and François Ozon are also among the directors Darrieux worked with, as Nancy Tartaglione notes at Deadline. For her performance in Anatole Litvak’s Mayerling, Darrieux “won a National Board of Review Best Actress prize for the romance which had premiered at the Venice Film Festival when the top award there was still known as the Mussolini Cup.”

“There are few actors who embodied many people’s idea of a French woman of the world more than Danielle Darrieux,” writes Ronald Bergan for the Guardian. “Starting as an ingenue in the 1930s, she grew into a sophisticate in the 40s and 50s, and retained a dignified and magical presence in films into the new century. . . . Although she did not make any films during the occupation, Darrieux entertained German troops with the cabaret act she had perfected, and went on a publicity trip to Germany with a group of other French stars. Now married to the Dominican diplomat and polo player Porfirio Rubirosa, she became a target for criticism, but was exonerated after the liberation. Coincidentally, in 1956, Jean Renoir wrote a play for her and Paul Meurisse called Carola, about an affair between a French actress and a German general during the occupation. Although Darrieux was quite willing to perform it, the project failed to materialize.”

“She recorded and sang dozens of songs onscreen over the decades, most recently Charles Trenet’s ‘La Folle Complainte’ in the 2006 film comedy Nouvelle Chance, in which she played an alcoholic,” writes Anita Gates in the New York Times. “With and without music, Ms. Darrieux had a long and varied stage career in France, taking on dozens of roles in works by Noël Coward, Françoise Sagan, Feydeau and other playwrights. . . . ‘The world is truly bizarre,’ she told the weekly magazine L’Express in 1997. ‘In that context, the role of artists is to bring a little release and pleasure.’”

Update, 10/22: “In the 1930s Darrieux’s pouting ingénues had put her energy and wit to the service of modernity,” writes Ginette Vincendeau for Sight & Sound. “Later, as in Madame de . . . , she incarnated to perfection elegant, bittersweet romantic heroines. A Hollywood-style glamorous star for the French, to the end she remained the epitome of chic Parisian style.”

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