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Deneuve unveils "dangerous" side with "wicked" role

This is not, perhaps, the easiest time for a Frenchwoman, especially one officially designated as the living embodiment of France, to visit America. But the elegant, sophisticated Catherine Deneuve seems to be coping. As cool, as blond and as unlined as ever, the 60-year-old Parisienne -- whose face is the model for Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic on the country's coins and stamps -- dismisses the current coolness between the two nations with all the sang froid that one would expect from an icon of European cinema.

I think it's easier to be a French person here in America today, she says, than to be an American today in other parts of the world.

Nonetheless, she predicts that the current chill in Franco-American relations will be only temporary.

It was a very long marriage between America and France, she says, and like a very long marriage there can be, you know, sort of moments. Now it's a tough moment, but it's only a moment.

Deneuve is back in the United States to promote her first-ever foray into American television, the mini-series "Dangerous liaisons", a remake of the classic French tale of lust, deception and revenge that will air at 7 p.m. on the Women's Entertainment network on Monday and Tuesday. This version is updated to the 1960s, with the scene shifting between the boulevards of Paris and the sun-drenched French Riviera. Deneuve plays the conniving Madame de Merteuil, played on screen by Glenn Close in "Dangerous liaisons" (1988) and by Annette Bening in "Valmont" (1989). She and the amoral Valmont (Rupert Everett) enter into a pact to seduce and abandon her former lover's new fiance, the youthful Cecile (Leelee Sobieski) -- the prize for Valmont's efforts to be Madame herself, the only woman who has ever resisted his charms. The scheme goes awry, however, when Valmont becomes enamored of the married, staunchly faithful Marie Tourvel (Nastassja Kinski).

The mini-series was filmed in French and English, to allow it to be aired in France and also in England, the United States and other English-speaking countries. That made the casting of Deneuve an obvious choice, as she's one of the few European actresses with popular appeal and artistic credibility both at home and abroad. For her own part, Deneuve says with a laugh, she relished the chance to play so reprehensible a character.

Although she is very wicked, and I don't think I've ever played someone as wicked as this character, she is also a woman who has been living her whole life for love, she says. And it was an occasion to play a great amoureuse -- I don't know how you say that in English !

Deneuve herself has made love a guiding light in her life. Daughter of the actors Maurice Dorleac and Renee Deneuve, she was discovered -- like so many other French beauties -- by director Roger Vadim, who cast her in her first major film -- "Le vice et la vertu" (1962). He was also the father of her first child, son Christian, born in 1963. She went on to marry the English photographer David Bailey in 1965, before divorcing him in 1972 and, later that same year, having daughter Chiara, whose father was the Italian screen legend Marcello Mastroianni. Along the way she managed to become an embodiment of beauty, romance and sexual desirability for a generation of European filmgoers. The romantic musical "The umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1963) hinted at sexuality, Roman Polanski's "Repulsion" (1965) gave more than a hint, and then Luis Bunuel's masterpiece "Belle de jour" (1967) made Deneuve an icon for her strong, seductive performance as a straight-laced, middle-class housewife who moonlights as a prostitute. Deneuve did venture to Hollywood -- and into the English language -- for "April fools" (1969) and "Hustle" (1975), respectively co-starring Jack Lemmon and Burt Reynolds. But her most popular, most influential films have been European-made, among them her performances as a stage actress in Nazi-occupied Paris in Francois Truffaut's "The last metro" (1980) and as a Frenchwoman in 1950s Vietnam in "Indochine" (1992), for which she received her first Oscar nomination as best actress. Deneuve attributes her longevity as an actress primarily to luck.

I would never talk about surviving, she says in still-heavily-accented English. I was very lucky to do, very young, very important films that were successful in France. I think living is surviving and making films is living. At least for me.

She does admit, however, that sustaining a career in middle age may be easier in France than in the United States, as Isabelle Huppert, Jeanne Moreau and Simone Signoret also demonstrate.

I'm sure it's less hard to grow old in Europe than in America," Deneuve says. "We love women more than beauty in Europe. But I think maybe there may be sort of a reverse these past few years,she adds. I remember, before Jane Fonda did "Julia" [1977], actresses were already complaining that it was difficult, after 35 in America, to be in a story where you would have an interesting life on-screen. But it seems to have changed -- I have the impression that there are a lot of films with women in the major parts in American films recently. But it is still easier in Europe.

Which no doubt partly explains why Deneuve doesn't work more often in the U.S.

I suppose, a long time ago, there used to be European actresses coming to America in co-productions, she says. This is not the case so much anymore, and the accent will always be a problem, unless you can justify the fact that you have an actress with an accent. Besides, she adds, I found that what I've been offered in English in American films was not as interesting as what I was offered in French.

Those offers continue to come, however, in large part because at 60 she remains one of the world's most beautiful women.

Well, you know, screen is not life, Deneuve says. Screen is a sort of exaltation, a little miracle every day for actors and actresses. Of course I take good care of myself and I try my best to stay in shape, but I'm not really fighting against something I don't think it's necessary to fight. I try to live with what I have, and I don't want to live with what I had.

Par : Ivor Davis

Film associé : Les liaisons dangereuses


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