Sunday, September 3, 2017

Jeanne Moreau / 'Living is risking'

Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne Moreau: 'Living is risking'

She is an icon of French cinema - but very much a living one. With a new film out, Jeanne Moreau tells Emma Brockes why her list of hates includes nostalgia, feminism and being called a grande dame

Thursday 1 November 2001 02.02 GMT

eeting Jeanne Moreau comes with the sort of warnings best met with body armour. “We nearly lost her yesterday,” says the publicist wearily. “She was furious, absolutely furious.” Despite being put up in “the best hotel in Canterbury”, Moreau was sufficiently unimpressed as to cast doubt over her commitment to the publicity schedule. Twenty-four hours after her outburst, the actress’s handlers are still registering aftershock. If the interview proceeds, they recommend it be approached with extreme caution.

Anxiously, then, I enter a dark cafe in Canterbury High Street, where the grande dame of French cinema and her retinue are installed. Moreau, 73, is in Britain for the Kent film festival, which is hosting the premiere of her new film, Cet Amour La. In it she plays the writer Marguerite Duras, during the last years of her life. But we are under no pressure to talk about it. Famously intolerant of PR-approved interviews, she hates bland questions, questions about her past, or the asking of anything woolly and generic, such as “What is your favourite film?” To these inquiries she has been known to spit, “Bah. Bullshit!” Fastidiously unsentimental, her motto is: “The life you had is nothing. It is the life you have that is important.”

It takes a few moments to adjust to the gloom of the cafe and a few more to make sense of the scene within. The Moreau entourage is in full cacophony - a French film crew, two assistants, a publicist, the waitress, and Josee Dayan, the director of Cet Amour La, looking sour and neglected and very much as if she has had a bowl of rivets for breakfast. In the middle stands Jeanne Moreau. She is a tiny, expertly packaged woman in dark glasses, a sharply tailored black suit and silver, spangled boots. Her hair is cultivated with the fanatical chic only French women can carry off. In one hand she holds a cigarette, the tip of which dances like a firefly as she calls the group to order. “Ah!” she says, sighting us. “Now we can begin.”

How is she finding Canterbury, I ask. “It is charming,” she says, with a loaded smile. A plate of two sausages and a piece of bacon arrive for her. “Let us sit at another table. I will ask them to turn down the music.”

The period of Moreau’s ascent, the new wave of the 60s, has been the subject of a nostalgic revival in the past few years. Louis Malle, her director in Les Amants, and Francois Truffaut, who directed her in Jules et Jim, are as revered as they were in their heyday; Habitat sells iconic postcards of Moreau’s co-star in Viva Maria, Brigitte Bardot; and easy listening compilations bounce up the album charts. “Crap!” seethes Moreau, in her exquisite smoker’s bass. “Nostalgia for what? Nostalgia is when you want things to stay the same. I know so many people staying in the same place. And I think, my God, look at them! They’re dead before they die. That’s a terrible risk. Living is risking.”
Moreau exudes Frenchness to the last molecule. But she is half-English - her mother was a dancer from Oldham who went to Paris in the 20s and had two children with a Parisian cafe owner. Moreau’s younger sister returned with their mother to Britain when she was 10, while Moreau stayed in France. If she had left too, she would have become English. “So many times I’ve thought how my life would have been different, and my work,” she says.
The dislike of nostalgia is something she relates to her English side. She has that detachment, she says, a certain primness she associates with Englishness. “People in France could see I was different from the usual actresses of that time. Maybe that’s why I attracted so many Anglo-Saxon directors like Orson Welles and Tony Richardson. In French, one says ‘Ma langue maternelle est le francais.’ But I say ‘Ma langue maternelle est l’anglais.’ My feminine side is English.”
She was different from her peers in other ways too. While Bardot did the dippy blonde sex bomb thing, Moreau was as sharp as cold air and mercilessly clever. She has said she was never beautiful - we should all be beautiful like she wasn’t - but it is true that she was valued for qualities other than her beauty. In an industry built on pretence, there was nothing phoney about her. “I never worried about that,” she says, dismissing the premium put by directors on physical appearance. “People’s opinions don’t interfere with me. Ageing gracefully is supposed to mean trying not to hide time passing and just looking a wreck. That’s what they call ageing gracefully. You know? Don’t worry girls, look like a wreck, that’s the way it goes. You suffer when you give birth, it doesn’t matter, it’s nature, all that fucking thing. They tell you, oh, those hormone pills, they’re terrible, you’ll get cancer. But when it comes to Viagra for men, they don’t speak about cancer.”

Who is the most beautiful person she has met? “Nobody famous. Ordinary people. Some children I have met are very beautiful. Not all, of course; some children are imbeciles, vulgar, terrible.” Moreau smiles. This is her stand against sentiment. Anything less, she believes, is weak and dishonest. “I don’t like very much sentimentality. Non . Because it fades very quickly. It’s like a cloud; it has one shape and then seconds after it is gone. After it is gone...” Moreau was married twice, at 21 to Jean Louis Richard, the father of her son, Jerome, and again at 49, to the Hollywood director William Friedkin. She had affairs with Louis Malle, Lee Marvin, Pierre Cardin. Surely when she was in love she was sentimental? “Of course. Why resist it? Like anybody, I experienced it. But it is like a fragrance, it doesn’t last.”

The list of hated experiences includes organised religion and any sort of group activity that required Moreau to toe a party line. The feminist movement wasn’t something she needed to join, she says; her “inner freedom” was statement enough. “I can’t belong to groups. I’ve tried. I behave normally, but people don’t look at me normally.”
What, they look at her like a movie star? “ Non, non - they expect everybody to be like them. If somebody doesn’t do the same thing they are made to feel expelled.”
It has taken years of work to fine-tune this self-sufficiency. “I am subject to very powerful lows. When you have highs, you have terrible lows. Doubts. When you pinpoint that you are responsible for everything that happens to you, it is very frightening. But it’s very liberating. Because at the beginning, you are always blaming other people, but the inner voice says no, no, no, no. Cause and effect; what happened exactly? You know?”
She doesn’t own a house or a flat. She would rather rent, she says, and remain free of responsibility. She smokes, she works, she travels. She never takes holidays. She derives a thrill from self-denial. Sixteen years ago, she stopped drinking. Was it a great effort of will? “No. I just stopped like that.” I ask whether she has any love interest at the moment and she says, “Of course. But not in the same way as I had when I was 30 or 40.” How is it different? “I need, absolutely, to be alone.” Does her boyfriend find that hard to accept? “No. I think more and more people want to live alone. You can be a couple without being in each other’s pockets. I don’t see why you have to share the same bathroom. Even if you have two bathrooms.”

On the subject of being a “grande dame” Moreau gives an indignant snort. “That’s what they say because of longevity. As soon as an actress is past 40, they call her a grande dame. ‘Oh God, she’s still alive!’”

Does she ever crave stability in her life? “As long as I’m here in good health, I’m stable.”

We leave the cafe to take photographs outside Canterbury cathedral. On the way, people stop in the street and stare. Moreau exudes such a hard, blue flame of defiance - she is beautiful still - that it is clear to passing shoppers that she is someone significant, although who, exactly, they aren’t quite sure. “Don’t take care of yourself because you want to stop time,” she says, touching her neck abstractly. “Do it for self-respect. It’s an incredible gift, the energy of life. You don’t have to be a wreck. You don’t have to be sick. One’s aim in life should be to die in good health. Just like a candle that burns out. You see?

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