Tuesday 1 August 2017

Vale Jeanne Moreau - Peter Kemp's heartfelt tribute

Moreau, Oskar Werner, Jules and Jim
As with Bette Davis, with whom she was understandably compared, Moreau’s intensity, her immersive commitment to the ontological moment - be that instant dramatic, comedic, or somewhere in between – was consummate. And the passion expressed, went way beyond the shallows of cosmetic surface appearance, virtually plumbing the sensory depths of existential being. And, like Davis (and also, I would suggest, Anna Magnani) that concentrated commitment, that submission to emotional truth, somehow rendered Moreau beautiful. Really, truly, uniquely beautiful. It’s a clichéd truism that there’ll never be another Moreau.

Claude Mann (standing), Moreau La Baie des Anges
Arguably, her most memorable onscreen work was with directors associated with France’s Nouvelle Vague: Louis Malle, Francois Truffaut; Jacques Demy. My two favourite Moreau performances from amongst these, are, firstly, her nervy, compulsive, platinum blonde lady-gambler, Jackie, clutching at life’s roulette wheel in Demy’s utterly enchanting BAY OF ANGELS; and, secondly, what many regard as her Hamlet, the dangerously enticing, perhaps clinically bi-polar Catherine, the ravishing apex of a life-long love-triangle in Truffaut’s sublime JULES AND JIM.  According to critic Pauline Kael, Moreau’s Catherine ’has, despite her need to intrude and to dominate, the gift of life. She holds nothing in reserve; she lives out her desires; when she can’t control the situation, she destroys it’.  Both characters, Jackie and Catherine, inspirit and infuse each film to a pitch that is downright thrilling. They are splendid exemplars of what can happen, at a particular, fortuitous point in cinema history when the right performer inhabits the right role under the guidance of the right auteur. Magic.

Henri Serre, Oskar Werner, Moreau, Jules and Jim
For film and theatre commentator, Dan Callahan  ‘Moreau was the key film actress of her time, a thinking man’s cinephile sexpot, a role model for liberated women, and so much more than that.’ This same critic (whose online contributions I thoroughly recommend, click the link above) got to interview the actress, who had this to say about her vocation: ‘Acting is a way of life for me, it’s not a career. It’s a way of doing the best I can with the time that is allowed for me on earth.’ And at another point, she simply declares:’Art is freedom. And it’s beauty. And we need it.’ Thank God for the necessary, beautiful, liberating art of Jeanne Moreau!

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