BIOGRAPHY:

     Moreau is one of the most challenging of screen actresses. Far from beautiful, she sometimes seems plain-faced, dumpy, and sullen. But when her personality is engaged, we have the feeling of an intelligent, intuitive woman wanting to commit herself to the inner rhythm of the movie. She flowers under sympathetic, intimate direction. At her best, she is riveting, capable of persuading us that she is beautiful, and able to vary her own appearance according to mood. Above all, and without any trace of rhetoric, she bares a vivid but vulnerable soul. Nothing expresses her so well as that instant in Eve (62, Joseph Losey) when she glares after the departing Stanley Baker and mutters "Bloody Welshman." Those words embody not just the sensual dominance of the woman, but a residual sadness that so brutal a sexual conflict should exist.

     Moreau's eminence coincided with the cinema's new interest in feminism. Her blend of intelligence and feelings is common to all great actresses, but it had seldom been based on less glamorous looks. Like the Catherine in Jules and Jim (61, François Truffaut), Moreau asserted herself so that stories took shape from a woman encouraged to experiment in front of the camera. Eve may be her most extreme role, but it involves the greatest risks and the most extraordinary triumph. Losey is not renowned for his handling of women, but Eve glories in Moreau's emotional pragmatism and her instinctive, sour fun. That long sequence in which she takes over Baker's bathroom, and the moment when she deludes him with a pathetic farrago about her own childhood, are perfect expressions of the cruelty and playfulness in Eve. Only Moreau could have made her so flouncingly sexy, so devouringly commercial, without losing sight of her loneliness or the moments in which she resembles a little girl.

     The daughter of a chorus girl, Moreau was a leading actress at the Théâtre Nationale Populaire before she made her name in movies. She had acted regularly in movies since 1948, but she was thirty before the New Wave found a proper use for her, or saw that she was deeply attractive and animated. After Touchez Pas au Grisbi (54, Jacques Becker), La Salaire du Péché (56, Denys de la Patellière), and Le Dos au Mur (57, Edouard Molinaro), she made two films for Louis Malle: Lift to the Scaffold (57) and Les Amants (57). The first showed a new "modern" woman, while the second was a notorious advance into sexual frankness—a dishonest vein more in keeping with bourgeois French cinema, and not central to Moreau's later work where she has usually suggested sexuality obliquely. In 1959, she went from Le Dialogue des Carmelites (Philippe Agostini) to Madame de Merteuil in Vadim's updated Les Liaisons Dangereuses. That was a part worthy of her, but cheated by Vadim's insistence on novelty at the expense of examination.

     She was one of Martin Ritt's Five Branded Women (60), and then began the run of outstanding parts: Moderato Cantabile (60, PeterBrook), an opaque study of a Marguerite Duras wife and mother on the point of breakdown, wonderfully inhabited by Moreau; La Notte(61, Michelangelo Antonioni), another portrait of alienation that Moreau steered carefully away from the self-pity growing in the director's work—no one else could have sustained the long section in which she wanders through Milan, observing the harsh, uncoordinated fragments of life; Jules and Jim, a key character in Truffaut's work, barely plausible on paper, but in Moreau's image a moving, capricious self-destructive woman torn between being a happy and a sad fool; the nervy, blonde gambler in La Baie des Anges (62, Jacques Demy), harrowed by the dilatory wheel and blithely ridding herself of the winnings at the best hotel in town.

     Those films made her one of the most desirable actresses in the world. In the event, she did not always choose parts well, but she was still more watchable in neutral than most others in top gear: The Victors (63, Carl Foreman); Peau de Banane (63, Marcel Ophüls); as Fraulein Becker in The Trial (63, Welles), a brief flash of lewdness; Will of the Wisp (63, Malle); cool, matter-of-fact, and flexible in Diary of a Chambermaid (64, Buñuel).

     Her insecurity was proved by her inability to dominate silly vehicles: thus Mata-Hari, Agent H.21 (64, Jean-Louis Richard, who, briefly, had been her husband). She was dowdy in The Train (65, John Frankenheimer), a little strained with Bardot in Viva Maria! (65, Malle) and uncomfortable in The Yellow Rolls Royce (64, Anthony Asquith). But she was a splendidly sordid Doll Tearsheet in Chimes at Midnight (66, Welles). Two Tony Richardson projects would have best been avoided, despite the nominal basis in Genet and Duras: Mademoiselle (66) and The Sailor from Gibraltar (67). The part of the avenging Julie Kohler in The Bride Wore Black (67, Truffaut) wavered in and out of life, but seemed as outside her ken as it was imposed on Truffaut by his admiration of Hitchcock.

     In 1968, however, Welles cast her with characteristic tender mischief as the aging prostitute reclaimed by romance in the realization of Mr. Clay's Immortal Story. The most poetic thing in that film is the way Moreau does seem to become younger from the moment she blows out the candles in the magical chamber appointed for the enactment of the story. It suggested that she might yet lead Welles into a film that dealt profoundly with women.

     She looked her age and roamed the film world rather uncertainly: Le Corps de Diane (68, Richard); Great Catherine (68, Gordon Flemyng); to Hollywood for Monte Walsh (70, William Fraker) and Alex in Wonderland (71, Paul Mazursky); Compte à Rebours (70, Roger Pigaut); Mille Baisers de Florence (71, Guy Gilles); singing "Quand l'Amour se Meurt" in Le Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir (69); excelling once more for Marguerite Duras in Nathalie Granger (72); and Chère Louise (72, Philippe de Broca).

     She yielded with ardent regret to middle-age, married William Friedkin briefly, became a director herself—with Lumière (75)—and kept involved with enterprising pictures: to Brazil for Joanna Francesca (73, Carlo Diegues); Souvenirs d'en France (74, André Téchiné); Making It (74, Bertrand Blier); Le Jardin qui Bascule (75, Guy Gilles); Mr. Klein (76, Losey); a temperamental actress in The Last Tycoon (76, Elia Kazan). In 1979, she directed her second film L'Adolescente.

     She was in Night Fires (79, Mary Stephen); Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid (81, George Kaczender); Plein Sud (81, Luc Beraud); Mille Milliards de Dollars (81, Henri Verneuil); as an icon of foreboding in Querelle (82, Rainer Werner Fassbinder); TThe Trout (82, Losey); L'Arbre (84, Jacques Doillon); Vicious Circle (84, Kenneth Ives); Le Paltoquet (86, Michel Deville); Sauve-toi Lola (86, Michel Drach); La Miracule (86, Jean-Pierre Mocky); The Last Seance (86, John Wyndham-Davies); Hotel Terminus (87, Marcel Ophüls); La Nuit de l'Ocean (88, Antoine Perset); La Femme Nikita (90, Luc Besson); Alberto Express (90, Arthur Joffé); Until the End of Time (91, Wim Wenders); Map of the Human Heart (93, Vincent Ward); and The Summer House (93, Warris Hussein).

     Her voice spoke the words of Marguerite Duras looking back on the events of The Lover (92, Jean-Jacques Annaud)—as if too many Gauloises could have given Jane March a French accent. In addition, Moreau has contributed to documentaries on Fassbinder, Truffaut, Jean-Louis Barrault and, not least, Lillian Gish—the latter of which she directed.

By David Thomson