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Belle toujours

Catherine Deneuve smiles as she opens the door to her hotel suite, and there's just no way to be jaded about being in the presence of this legendary screen goddess. Attending the Toronto Film Festival in connection with gay director François Ozon's sprightly musical mystery "8 Women", she exudes charm, sophistication, and the subtle sensuality that has made her a screen legend for nearly four decades.

The radiant beauty, who turns 59 in October - looking far better than someone half her age would have a right to, having just gotten off a plane from Paris - lights the first in a series of slender French cigarettes and begins talking about her new movie and her amazing screen career. She's clearly enthusiastic about "8 Women", where she gets to strut around in her best lady-of-the-manor manner, decked out in a fabulous Christmas-with-Joan-Crawford gown. "The character is so far from me, it was something I really had to play", she admits.

Seeing Deneuve sing and dance recalls her work in Jacques Demy's new wave '60s songfests "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "The Young Girls of Rochefort", not to mention her appearance alongside Björk in "Dancer in the Dark". Equally as memorable, of course, are her sultry appearances in such intellectually erotic films as "Belle de Jour" and "The Hunger", but even then, she was all about the costumes. "I don't like nudity", she says. "I think that when you are nude you're not an actor anymore; you become a person. You relate to actors in a different way when they are nude. And I don't find nudity erotic either".

But given the many highly sexual characters she's played onscreen, she's at least comfortable with her body, right? "No. No!" says Deneuve. "You don't see much of my body in films. I'm from the generation that started in films dressed. Actresses that started working in the '70s, you would be in a lot of films where you would be naked or half-naked because that's how it was done, but I was not part of that generation. François Truffaut said there's a big difference between actresses who started in films naked, so it's normal to be naked on a set, and the ones who never get naked. And he said to me, "You belong to the other generation". I agree. And it's also my preference".

"8 Women" crosses several generations as Deneuve joins seven other leading French actresses -including Fanny Ardant ("The Woman Next Door"), Danielle Darrieux ("Le Plaisir"), and Emmanuelle Béart ("Mission: Impossible") - to play the family and servants of a businessman whose mysterious murder kicks off the movie. Each of the titular femmes fatales has a motive, an opportunity - and a musical number. "We had a lot of fun working on this [musical] part of the film because we took it seriously, although it doesn't play seriously", Deneuve says.

But it wasn't just the dance sequences that required choreography. One of the film's most talked-about scenes is the catfight turned make-out session between Deneuve (the dead man's wife) and Ardant (the sister-in-law), where slap quickly turns into tickle. "We had some tension, Fanny and me, to do that scene together, but it came out very well. It was more like ballet than anything", reveals Deneuve. "It was not my first kiss in a film with a woman, you know, so that helped, [but] I suppose that actresses having to do a scene like that have a shyness that maybe men would not have".

Lesbian audiences, of course, remember her passionate seduction of Susan Sarandon in "The Hunger" - Deneuve says that onscreen intimacy led to a friendship that endures to this day - and her amour fou with bad girl Laurence Côte in "Thieves" (1996). Of that latter performance, Deneuve recalls, "I was not sure that I would know how to be in love with a woman, because it's not only a sexual relationship, she is in love with that woman. But to be in love with a man or a woman, it's the same thing; it has to do with giving and listening and being very open to someone, so it does not make much difference".

Nevertheless, Deneuve says she finds it's easier to act opposite women than men. "I feel very comfortable", she says. "A man will always be someone appealing that always will be a stranger; a woman is never really completely a stranger with another woman. There is more of an intimacy and a complicity".

But whether with a man or a woman, Deneuve likes her intimacy to be kept private - she sued director Roger Vadim, her former lover, for his revelations about a 17-year-old Deneuve in his Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda memoir, and she feels that actors in general would benefit by cultivating an air of mystery about themselves - including their sexual orientation: "The less you know about an actor's or actress's own personality - and this has nothing to do with their sexuality - the easier it is to be involved with the character. For example, if you know an actor to be so known for his homosexuality, even if he would be wonderful to play the part of a [heterosexual] lover in a film, it's more difficult to really believe in the story. I'm very private - it's not so related to homosexuality, it's more related to private life, and I think actors have got to be as quiet as possible about their lives".

However private, Deneuve is far from reserved, often preferring to work with edgy, experimental directors (such as Ozon, Lars von Trier, André Téchiné, Raoul Ruiz). "I'm lucky because I'm very curious by nature", Deneuve says of her career choices. "And also being in Europe, where it's easier to take chances, unlike America, where you are in a 'box office-think'. But I've been lucky enough to work with interesting directors when I was young, so I was pushed in that direction early in my career".

She feels France has it all over America when it comes to gay rights as well, particularly thanks to that country's PACS, a "civil solidarity" law that allows gay domestic partners to have government-sanctioned unions. "We are very advanced, no?" says Deneuve. "[Gay activists] are very powerful in America but very conventional. We have fewer demonstrations [in France], but there homosexual couples have more civil rights". So while Deneuve keeps getting the good offers back in France - she's re-teaming with her openly gay "Thieves" director, Téchiné, early next year - is there any chance she'll be coming to Hollywood any time soon? "There is such a taste in America for girls. But for women? Hmmp", she notes with disdain. "When I read American magazines, even Meryl Streep is complaining about how hard it is for an actress after 40 to find interesting parts because there is such an appeal in America for youth; it's scary".

Par : Alonso Duralde

Films associés : Huit femmes, Dancer in the dark, Belle de jour, Les voleurs, Les parapluies de Cherbourg, Les demoiselles de Rochefort, Les prédateurs


Documents associés

Festival de Toronto 2002
André Téchiné

François Truffaut