POSTED August 12 2013

Two faces of Catherine Deneuve

 Deneuve, channeling Dietrich

Deneuve, channeling Dietrich

First, her skin. From a distance I have seen Catherine Deneuve many times at Cannes where her face had a confectionary perfection, like marzipan glazed with honey, all the better to complement the honey-gold hair. In 1988 we have a date at the Metropolitan Museum’s Fragonard exhibition. Close up the poreless face glows like an ivory rose petal in the August sun.

At the time I am a magazine columnist and her representatives hope that I will do a piece about the actress and her eponymous fragrance. This, even though I tell the reps that Deneuve is 15-20 years older than the magazine’s target demographic.

Before we enter the exhibition (a private preview for Deneuve), she references her age (45), agreeing that she is a little old for the readers of Mademoiselle. Why don’t we just enjoy the art and each other’s company? That takes the pressure off.  Over her jeans she wears a black tee and blazer. The resplendent hair is pulled into a loose ponytail. The face that launched a million obsessions is casually made up in what was then called the no-makeup look — a soupcon of foundation, a hint of mascara and tinted lip gloss. She wears no scent.

She is funny about Fragonard, appreciating his “sorbet” color,  joking that his idylls and arcadias make her feel like his patroness, Mme. DuBarry. She mentions that Fragonard was an uncle of the Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, which surprises me. (He was actually a great-uncle.) I ask her about Jacques Demy, her director in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, and about Bunuel, her director in Belle de Jour and Tristana. It surprises her that I know movies. She talks of the connections between Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Bunuel’s Tristana. “The obsessions of men,” she says in that tobacco-cured voice as she regards a Fragonard maiden on a swing. We both know she refers to the directors, not the painter.

She notes that in the States she is probably known only as Susan Sarandon’s vampire seductress in The Hunger. I tell her that American cinephiles know better. This gets me an invitation to cocktails. Over drinks we talk about Ronald Reagan, Jacques Chirac’s challenge of Francois Mitterand and French right-winger Jean-Marie LePen. We also talk movies, about which I remember nothing. She is sharp, grateful that I don’t ask about her personal life and asks permission to ask about mine.  We exchange addresses and promise to keep in touch.

Flash-forward to 1990. I am in Sarasota, Florida at the Ringling Museum, site of the opening-night gala for the French Film Festival. Deneuve swans around the garden in a bronze-toned frock that makes her flowing hair look even more golden. Trailing her with videocams and microphones is a corps of French television and radio journalists, dogging her as Corgis to Queen Elizabeth. I try to catch her eye and reintroduce myself. I am unsuccessful. Later, Catherine Verret of the French Film Office makes the re-introduction. I remind Deneuve of our afternoon with Fragonard. I tease her about the difference between the casual body language of the woman at the Met and this ceremonial figure at the Ringling. Deneuve laughs. “It is, of course, a matter of language. In English I am easy[going]. In French I am a bitch.”

Today Deneuve is the TCM star du jour et nuit. Not a mediocre movie in the bunch. I like her from The Demoiselles of Rochefort through 8 Women. You?


  1. Joe says:

    Carrie! Terrific piece. Here’s my money quote: “Formidable!” (pronounced the French way). I met Deneuve in San Francisco for an interview re “Este/Oeste” (“East/West”) and the first thing she said was … “Let’s get on with it.” Very hardboiled, no-nonsense. But as we discussed films (hers and others), she softened and eventually ordered a bottle of wine for the two of us. (Turns out I was her last interviewer after a long day.) We drank half and she suggested I take the bottle with me – un cadeau de Deneuve. The voice in her book, “The Private Diaries of Catherine Deneuve,” is truly hers – at once chatty and imperious, opinionated and modest. I liked her a lot – a genuine movie star.

  2. While Deneuve always has been beautiful, fascinating and given good performances, I find that she just gets better with age as in her recent work in East-West, 8 Women and A Christmas Tale. Of her early work, there are so many to choose from, but I have soft spots for the Demy musicals and Mississippi Mermaid.

  3. Joe says:

    Carrie! I got so caught up in my own memories that I forgot to answer your question. My favorite Deneuves are “Les demoiselles de Rochefort,” “La sirène du Mississipi,” “The April Fools,” “Tristana” and “Ma saison préférée.”

  4. Chris says:

    A watchable, subtitled copy of the unavailable Agnes Varda movie Les Creatures, starring La Deneuve, is available here:

    Three cheers for mentioning the oft-overlooked, exquisite ‘Ma Saison Préférée.’

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