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R.I.P. Jeanne Moreau, French cinema legend

Photo: Keystone-France / Getty Images
Photo: Keystone-France / Getty Images

Jeanne Moreau, the French actress who starred in such films as Jules And Jim and Diary Of A Chambermaid and whose independence, sensuality, and vitality embodied the spirit of the French New Wave, has died. Her death was confirmed by the mayor of Moreau’s home district in Paris, Variety reports. She was 89.

Moreau was an established stage actress plugging away in a series of low-budget B-movies when director Louis Malle cast her in his feature-film debut, Elevator To The Gallows, in 1958. The pair immediately followed that film with another project, The Lovers (1958), the film that made Moreau an international star. She followed that role with starring turns in films like Roger Vadim’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1959), Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte (1961), and François Truffaut’s Jules And Jim (1962), the first of several collaborations between Truffaut and Moreau and one of the great classics of the French New Wave.

Moreau would continue to work with the greatest directors of the era throughout the 1960s, including Luis Bunuel (Diary Of A Chambermaid, 1964), Joseph Losey (Eva, 1962), Jacques Demy (Bay Of Angels, 1963), Tony Richardson (Mademoiselle, 1966) and John Frankenheimer (The Train, 1964), among others. Orson Welles, for whom she starred in multiple films, called her “the greatest actress in the world.” As the ‘60s gave way to the ‘70s, though, the range of roles available to Moreau began to narrow, and she tried her hand at directing for a while. Nevertheless, she continued to act on stage and in films until her late 80s; her final film role was in the comedy Le talent de mes amis in 2015. Winner of the Best Actress award at Cannes for Moderato Cantabile in 1960, she received lifetime achievement awards from the Venice, Cannes, and Berlin International Film Festivals, as well as the BFI and the César Awards.

Moreau was married twice, once to writer-director Jean-Louis Richard and once to director William Friedkin. In a tweet, French President Emmanuel Macron called Moreau “a legend of cinema and theater…an actress engaged in the whirlwind of life with an absolute freedom,” and Cannes president Pierre Lescure paid tribute to her by saying, “She was strong and she didn’t like to see people pour their hearts out. Sorry, Jeanne, but this is beyond us. We are crying.” She is survived by a son, actor Jerome Richard.

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