Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne Moreau (1928–2017)

The actress Jeanne Moreau, perhaps best known for starring in François Truffaut’s 1962 French New Wave film Jules and Jim, died today at home in Paris, according to a report by Anita Gates in the New York Times. Moureau’s death was confirmed by French president Emmanuel Macron’s office. Born in Paris in 1928, she was fifteen when she saw her first play, Antigone, and decided to become an actress, despite her father’s disapproval. However, she saw his opposition as a motivating force: “It forces you toward excellence,” she told a reporter for the French newspaper Le Figaro in 2001. “All my life I wanted to prove to my father that I was right.”

She studied at the Conservatoire National d’Art Dramatique and, at age twenty, became the youngest-ever full-time member of the Comédie-Française, making her debut in Ivan Turgenev’s drama A Month in the Country. She later joined the Théâtre National Populaire and, in 1953, had a notable appearance in a production of L’Heure Éblouissante after the other leading lady became ill and Moreau managed to play the two characters throughout. After seeing her in Peter Brook’s 1956 Paris production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Louis Malle cast her in his 1958 drama The Lovers, which caused a stir at the time for a lengthy love scene in which Moreau’s character reaches orgasm. Other notable roles included playing Marcello Mastroianni’s wife in Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Night (1961), a servant in Luis Buñuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), a seductress in Eva (1962), and a vengeful widow in The Bride Wore Black (1968).

In 1960, she shared the Cannes Film Festival’s best actress prize for her role as a murder witness in Peter Brook’s psychological drama Moderato Cantabile. She received the 1967 BAFTA Film Award for best foreign actress for her role as Brigitte Bardot’s striptease partner in Viva Maria!, and she also won a César award for best actress in 1992 for playing a con woman in the comedy The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea. She also directed three films in her lifetime, including a 1983 documentary about Lillian Gish. Moreau was made an officer of the Legion of Honor and was the first woman inducted into the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

Though she was romantically linked with Truffaut and Malle, as well as the fashion designer Pierre Cardin, the director Tony Richardson, and actor Lee Marvin, she married Jean-Louis Richard, a French actor and screenwriter with whom she had a son, in 1949. Her second marriage was to the American director William Friedkin. In 1965 Truffaut said of Moreau to a reporter for Time magazine, “She has all the qualities one expects in a woman, plus all those one expects in a man — without the inconveniences of either.”