Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Graven Images

She appears, fleetingly, in Truffaut's The 400 Blows, being pursued by Jean-Claude Brialy. It's the scene in which the boy, Antoine Doinel spends a night on the streets of Paris, stealing a bottle of milk and feeling obliged to drink all of it. She walks past the boy, smiling, as Brialy shoos him away, in pursuit of his prey.

In his 1970 interview with Truffaut, Charles Thomas Samuels asked him, "Why did you include in The 400 Blows that little 'guest' scene between Jean-Claude Brialy and Jeanne Moreau?"

Truffaut replied, "Brialy was a good friend of mine and offered to pass through the film, bringing Moreau with him. Since I knew and admired her work as a stage actress, I was very happy to agree."

She is the reason that Maurice Ronet, in Malle's Elevator to the Gallows, murders (her husband), before getting stuck in an elevator from which all his skills as a paratrooper can't extract him. By the time, the following morning, he finally escapes, his beautiful American convertible has been stolen and she, has spent the night wandering the streets (of Paris again) looking for him, convinced that he has absconded with another girl.

She is the brooding, emotional wife of Marcello Mastroianni in Antonioni's La Notte, grieving for a dead friend, and once again wandering - this time through Milan - looking for the lost thread, and making the only other principal female in the film, Monica Vitti, look unaccountably thin and pale by comparison. As a woman,
she was far too real for the fake world Antonioni depicts. She can't even bring herself to cheat like the rest of them do. We last see her in a golf course sand trap, resisting Marcello's "last ditch" lovemaking before the camera steals away. . .

She is Catherine, the object of Jules and Jim's love, the embodiment of a graven image of a goddess they found. In the film that defined - and continues, indelibly - to define the French New Wave, she is an image set free, let loose from the frame, in what sadly became Truffaut's - and the New Wave's - last great film.

Because she was flesh and blood, unlike American stars, she had the grace to grow old before our eyes, her voice dropping to subterranean depths. That voice is all we have of her in Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Lover. Hers is the voice of Marguerite Duras, telling us the story of her first love in Indochina - Saigon. Despite the striking physical beauty of Jane March, it is her voice that invokes the experience, across the ages, that Duras is resurrecting.

She wasn't a timeless beauty like Darrieux or Deneuve. She was utterly feminine, its embodiment. Thankfully, she had the flower of French film to immortalize her, and not the overwrought fakeries of Hollywood. The films to which we can now turn to remember her are fitting vessels to carry her image.

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