I'm back from my marvelous trip through France, and already missing the country's gorgeous landscapes and magical cities! Since my heart is still brimming with emotions and memories from my travels, I'm going to continue my series on inspirational French women. (What can I say? I want to re-live my experience for as long as I can!) Today, we'll learn about actress (and model and human rights advocate) Catherine Deneuve, one of my all-time favorite performers.
“People who know me know I'm strong, but I'm vulnerable.”
~ Catherine Deneuve
Born to perform
Catherine is the daughter of two Parisian stage actors, and both she and her two sisters were bitten by the acting bug as young girls. The entire family was drawn to both singing and acting, and Catherine landed her first film role at the ripe old age of 13. She continued to dabble in both stage and screen roles, but got her big break in 1964 when she was cast in the musical film, “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.” She was just 21 at the time, and became a huge star in her native France … but it was her next role that would make her an icon.
Controversial director Roman Polanski cast Catherine as a cold but deeply erotic figure in his horror film, “Repulsion,” and she took to the role so well that she earned the nickname, “Ice Maiden.” She was so suited to this type of character that it became her trademark for quite a while. Catherine was cast again and again as an aloof, enigmatic beauty with deep sexual magnetism. Just two years later in 1967, she starred as a housewife-turned-prostitute in “Belle de Jour,” and was so compelling she received a BAFTA award.
Catherine continued to take roles as mysterious sirens, but also wanted to spread her artistic wings. She didn't enjoy being typecast, and was eager to show her range as an actress. She would go on to take roles in comedies, dramas, and musicals, and even perform voices for animated films! She starred in the cult classic vampire film “The Hunger” along with David Bowie and Susan Sarandon, and was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Indochine,” the heart-wrenching story of a French plantation owner and her adopted Vietnamese daughter. Catherine has made more than 100 films so far, and, now in her 70s, shows no signs of shying from the spotlight.
An iconic beauty
“Being an actress is a very physical thing. If I didn't look the way I looked, I would never have started in films.”
~ Catherine Deneuve
From the start, Catherine was aware that her mesmerizing beauty was an asset. In addition to her acting work, she took on several prominent modeling jobs. Legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent considered her a muse for several decades. She became the face of Chanel No. 5 perfume in the late 1970s, a campaign that won the hearts of American fans. And, following in the footsteps of Brigitte Bardot and Mireille Mathieu, Catherine was chosen as the live model for Marianne, a national symbol of the French Republic, from 1985 to 1989!
Even into the 2000s, as the cruised through her 60s and 70s, Catherine continued to land gigs with Louis Vuitton, M.A.C., and L'Oreal. I love seeing her in advertisements, a proud and still-radiant older woman!
The rebellious sage
In her private life, Catherine was never interested in following the rules. She's only been married once, and for just seven years, though she's taken many long-term lovers and had two children with them. She expresses her views on the institution in this great quote:
“Marriage is obsolete and a trap.”
~ Catherine Deneuve
She has also championed many political and human rights issues, some of them quite controversial. She's staunchly pro-choice and has spoken out about her experience receiving an illegal abortion. She vehemently opposes the death penalty, and has worked with Amnesty International to fight it worldwide. She's been involved with charities that fight AIDS and cancer, as well as organizations that battle for children's rights.
Catherine Deneuve may have spent much of her long career being revered for her physical beauty, but she strikes me as a wise sage. She's dealt with the politics and pitfalls of show business since she was a teen, sought out complex and interesting roles, shunned social traditions, fought for her beliefs, and done it all on her own terms. She is smart and compassionate, but also blunt and determined. Her fearlessness is a shining example to all of us, but especially those of us who my shy away from our ambitions and beliefs. May this fabulous French icon inspire us for many decades to come!