How do you assess the life, loves and triumphs of Jeanne Moreau in six or seven paragraphs? You don’t. You just type out the highlights, throw in an observation or two and then walk away, frustrated and irked.
I love this quote from a 1.13.01 interview with Alan Riding: “The cliché is that life is a mountain,” she said. “You go up, reach the top and then go down. To me, life is going up until you are burned by flames.” In other words, no retirement, no rest homes…bop until you drop.
It’s not disrespectful to note that Moreau was the first older actress about whom I had erotic fantasies. Past her physical prime but serious in the sack. In my head she was a world-class MILF, long before the term had been invented.
This was entirely due to her brief performance in Bertrand Blier‘s Going Places (’74), in which she played a destitute middle-aged woman, just released from prison, who eats, smokes, hangs out, walks on the beach and makes love with Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere for a couple of days before…well, before committing suicide. (Which I always thought was a cruel and unimaginative way to arrange for her character to exit the narrative.)
I had seen Moreau in Viva Maria (I’m recalling another very hot scene with George Hamilton) before Going Places, but I was inspired by that magnificent Blier flick to search through all her classic performances, and I think it’s entirely fair to say that aside from her mature emotings and world-class chops, Moreau was one of the most openly carnal actresses of her time. In a subtle, understated, sophisticated way, I mean.
Since that time I have seen and savored Moreau in Louis Malle‘s Elevator to the Gallows and The Lovers, and in Roger Vadim‘s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. In a cameo in Francois Truffaut‘s The 400 Blows. As Marcello Mastroianni‘s costar in Michelangelo Antonioni‘s La Notte and Orson Welles‘ The Trial. And of course in Truffaut’s Jules and Jim — probably her greatest role or certainly the one for which she’s best remembered.
Not to mention Luis Bunuel‘s Diary of a Chambermaid, John Frankenheimer‘s The Train, Jacques Demy‘s Bay of Angels. Tony Richardson‘s Mademoiselle. Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black. Going Places! Elia Kazan‘s The Last Tycoon. Joseph Losey‘s Monsieur Klein. Laurent Heynemann‘s The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea, Wim Wenders‘ Until the End of the World and Vincent Ward‘s Map of the Human Heart.
She had hot and heavy affairs with Truffaut, Malle, Tony Richardson, Pierre Cardin, Lee Marvin and William Friedkin, and God knows how many other lucky fellows.