Mireille Darc obituary
French actor best known for mainstream films who earned her place in the New Wave pantheon with her performance in Jean-Luc Godard’s WeekendRonald Bergan
Wednesday 30 August 2017 15.53 BST
Mireille Darc, who has died aged 79, was a French film star known for her zestful appearances in a string of popular sex comedies and cops and robbers movies. Mainly in the 1960s, she played a variety of good-natured call girls and gangsters’ molls, while not being averse to disrobing when the plot required it, and sometimes when it did not.
One of her most famous roles was in The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe (Le Grand Blond Avec Une Chaussure Noire, 1972), an espionage farce in which she displayed a black backless dress to the astonishment of unwilling spy Pierre Richard. The dress, designed by Guy Laroche, is now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
But Darc herself was not only decorative. She revealed a talent for delivering zinging dialogue, especially that written by Michel Audiard, a master of witty and biting French slang. This was displayed in 13 films directed by Georges Lautner, who tried to keep the same team from film to film: actors Darc, Lino Ventura, Bernard Blier, Francis Blanche and Jean Lefebvre; writer Audiard, and cinematographer Maurice Fellous.
|Mireille Darc, right, with Juliet Berto in Weekend, 1967, directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Photograph: Lira/Ascot/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock|
One of the reasons many of Darc’s films are not well known outside France is because much of the dialogue is not easily translatable, along with some of the titles. For example: Pouic-Pouic (Squeak-Squeak, 1963), Des Pissenlits par la Racine (1964, Dandelions By the Root, but colloquially meaning Pushing Up the Daisies); Les Barbouzes (The Great Spy Chase, 1965); and Les Seins de Glace (1974, Icy Breasts or, less politely, Cold Tits.)
They were the sorts of commercial movies despised by the directors of the New Wave. Unlike Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, to whom she had been compared, Darc avoided the new generation of film directors. Therefore, it is ironic that her best film by far was Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967), a virtuoso piece of film-making and the most devastating of attacks on contemporary capitalist society and the motor car.
Darc and Jean Yanne play a feuding adulterous bourgeois couple, driving into the country from Paris, who find themselves in a nightmare of traffic jams, car crashes, murder, destruction and cannibalism.
|Mireille Darc and Pierre Richard in the espionage farce Le Grand Blond Avec Une Chaussure Noire (The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe), 1972. Photograph: Gaumont/Madeleine/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock|
Darc brilliantly plays against her previously likable persona, convincingly prurient and violent, as she ends up joining a group of cannibalistic guerrillas. In fact, Darc was not Godard’s choice, she having been forced upon him by the producers. He associated her with “empty spy spoofs and sex comedies”, a reputation that he decides to deconstruct by using elements of the sort of crime thrillers Darc had made. The cinematographer Raoul Coutard described how Godard “was in a bad mood for most of the film, and went out of his way on the set to humiliate Mireille Darc”. Nevertheless, from this one film, Darc earned her place among the other icons of the New Wave.
She was born in Toulon as Mireille Aigroz, the third child of Marcel Aigroz, a gardener, and his wife Gabrielle (nee Reynaudo), a shop assistant. She later learned that the man who brought her up was not her biological father.
After graduating from the Toulon conservatory, where she took music, she took her stage name from Jeanne d’Arc, but eliminated the apostrophe. After modelling and a few small parts in films from 1961, Darc had her first leading role opposite the comic Louis de Funès as his daughter in Pouic-Pouic (1963). Roles followed rapidly, among them in Monsieur (1964) as a prostitute who saves Jean Gabin from taking his own life.
|Mireille Darc in Monte Carlo Or Bust, 1969. Photograph: Paramount/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock|
In the title role of Lautner’s Galia (1966), Darc again rescues someone from suicide, this time a badly treated wife. This rather absurd melodrama, with a veneer of chic, had a fairly profitable release in the UK and US, probably because of Darc’s sexually liberated presence.
After her “art film” experience in Weekend, Darc reverted to the mainstream with a crime drama called Jeff (1969) in which she co-starred with Alain Delon, thus beginning a 15-year much publicised romance. They made an attractive pair in several films together including Madly (The Love Mates, 1970) and Flic Story (1971). The nearest Darc came to Hollywood was the lengthy slapstick epic Monte Carlo Or Bust (1969), in which, among an all-star cast playing national stereotypes, she was a saucy French driver.
|Delon and Mireille Darc|
Because of ill health, Darc gave up acting in 1986, although she returned to partner Delon in a TV series, Frank Riva, and on stage in The Bridges of Madison County in 2007. However, she directed a few social documentaries on the homeless, cancer, and prostitution.
She is survived by her husband, Pascal Deprez, an architect, whom she married in 1996.
• Mireille Darc (Mireille Aigroz), actor; born 15 May 1938; died 28 August 2017