Jeanne Moreau has died. I drank the Francois Truffaut/Louis Malle Kool Aid. I was in love with Jeanne Moreau as much as they had been when they cast her as their pouty-mouth, emotional anarchist heroines. She was beautiful and intelligent. Fearless. Sexy in the French-est possible way.
But mostly: she was in charge.
In Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black, Jeanne Moreau is a true femme fatale: with perfect deliberateness—only halfway through do we learn why-- she kills five men and crosses them off the list in her black Hermes agenda. “My life is strewn with emotional obstacles that trip me over and end up becoming films,” she confessed. In Jules and Jim she is the “inventor” of her own life, a woman who can love two men and have them get along with each other. Truffaut said Moreau gave him “the courage to make the film and the courage to see it through”. In Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows and Les Amants (The Lovers), Moreau is again the catalyst for real-life male meltdown. “I knew that if I played the love scenes just as Louis [Malle] wanted, he would love me as an actress but hate me as a woman. I could not play them without betraying him,” said Moreau. Les Amants was the cause of a US Supreme Court case on obscenity, but the court could not agree on a definition of obscene which caused Justice Stewart to write his “I know it when I see it” opinion, one of the most infamous lines of jurisprudence. In Luis Bunuel’s Diary of A Chambermaid Moreau once again controlled the situation through her sexuality. Bunuel studied the way she walked in high heels. Mastroianni fell in love with her but said after she dumped him when their film finished. “ She is always searching for love but leaves victims along the roadside,” he said. Moreau has been unapologetic—“Sleeping with people is one of the best ways of getting to know them”.
In 2011 when I was working on a post on the 50th anniversary of Jules and Jim (reprinted below) I reached out to her to try to interview her. I got back the following message:
“I am very sorry but I am working on 3 projects and really my mind is not going back to the past. Best regards, Jeanne Moreau”
All the more reason to remember her today, not only for her extraordinary cinematic performances, but also for the forward-thinking-living person she was until the end of her life.
"You said to me: 'I love you.' I said to you: 'Wait.' I was going to say: 'Take me.' You said to me: 'Go away.'" A woman's voice -- urgent, husky and siren-like all at once -- is heard over a black screen. Suddenly cheerful music reveals a gay turn-of-the-century world.