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Catherine the great

Suave and sophisticated, beautiful and mysterious, Catherine Deneuve sometimes seems a little aloof. But Marianne Gray found her warm and good-humoured - a devoted grandmother who's happiest in her garden.

One of the first things you notice about Catherine Deneuve, apart from her familiar face, is that she speaks amazingly fast. With eyes that seem to gaze beyond you, she chatters away wittily, a lucid woman with an agile mind who doesn't seem to give a damn about the reaction to her words. As she says, her quotes are often misused because sometimes she says too much, too rapidly and with too much free association. "In some interviews I don't even recognise myself", she comments with a Gallic shrug.

At 62 Deneuve remains the epitome of glamour, although, when we meet, she is hardly starry, wearing little make-up, bottle-bottom thick specs and her perfect figure slightly fuller than usual, as revealed by the odd straining blouse-button. She seems on top form, warm and relaxed, the opposite of the aloof ice queen she is usually considered to be.

He small hands are weathered, her nails short from gardening at her country house in Normandy.

"My garden is fantastic but my hands have been ruined", she exclaims, displaying them for inspection. "But I don't care. I get more excited nowadays by being given a new plant than going out for dinner at a chic restaurant. I adore gardening ; close contact with nature and the countryside has always been part of my life. It is very reassuring to hear the rain, the wind, the storm, the trees rustling outside as I go to sleep".

We meet in Morocco at the International Marrakesh Film Festival, where the previous night she had been the queen of glamour in a floaty red designer gown, giving Martin Scorsese a lifetime achievement award. Now, with a little pot of peppermint tea in a secluded corner of the Mamounia Hotel, she seems much smaller, dressed simply in nondescript trousers, a patterned silk blouse and a flat slip-on-shoes. He hair is brown, dyed for a film she is making with Monica Bellucci called "Le concile de pierre" ("The stone council"), in which she plays a nasty scientist.

"It's so good to play disagreeable roles", giggles Deneuve gleefully. "Nice, pretty roles are not interesting for me any more and, anyway, I am too old for them now. I am lucky that I work in Europe because it is easier to grow older on screen there, unlike in the States. I don't have a lot of interesting scripts sent to me and because of that I don't work so much. Luckily, that is okay with me. I recently didn't work for nine months and I enjoyed having a private life".

In her latest film, a comedy called "Royal Palace !" Deneuve plays a dowager queen, a character rather than a beauty.

"I am the Queen Mother, just an old queen mother from a northern country like Belgium or Luxembourg or perhaps England. We shot it in England, Paris and Belgium and I did quite a lot of my research from existing royals, especially the English ones. Let's just say there are parallels with real life".

"I don't know England that well, although when I was young, in 1965, I was married to the photographer David Bailey in London. Then, to me, England did not seem that far away, although it was in a way, and still is. England is such a foreign country to me. But I like the Anglo-Saxons - they have what I call a 'civilised indifference' to whatever other people may be doing".

"I have made special trips there just to visit the gardens. English gardens are the most perfect and the most difficult to create. But the food is terrible ! " Her hands fly up. "There are good places, Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese - but the basic English food is terrible, like steak and kidney pie. Ugh ! However, I love roast beef and Yorkshire pudding - I have a friend who does that for me every year for my birthday dinner".

Deneuve follows her beliefs ; she puts her public presence where her mouth is. Recently she headed a 500,000-strong petition which she delivered to the US embassy in Paris, calling for the United States to abolish the death penalty. I ask, as she famously reticent about her private life, why she recently published a book, a diary called "Close Up and Personal", which received mixed reviews.

Deneuve laughs : "I did not write my book to have it published. Over the years I had written diaries on film jobs that I never intended to publish. However, a publisher suggested that I choose some interviews I had done over the last 30 years for a book, but it did not work out because I often don't recognise myself in interviews. I have always said what I think and sometimes it doesn't come across quite right".

"Then I remembered my handwritten diaries that spanned a 40-year career. So I gave them to my publisher. Of course I took out some names !" She smiles, sphinx-like. They were my working diaries, you understand, not my private life".

That life is split between her apartment on the Left Bank in Paris, and Normandy, where she has a beautiful house. "I love my place in the country for weekends with my children, my grandchildren and my friends. No make-up, no glamour. In Paris I see friends, got to the movies, read".

"My children, Christian, who is 42, from my relationship with Roger Vadim, and Chiara, 35, whose father was Marcello Mastroianni, are both married and in the film industry. I worry about them terribly as grown-ups, much more so than when they were children. I have three grandchildren, two from Chiara and a third from Christian, and love to take them to the park, to have ice creams, to the cinema, especially the cartoons. I love Tex Avery's work, Roadrunner, beep-beep ! And we've all cried our way through Bambi".

"Being a grandmother has been a bit of a turning point. It is like being a mother all over again, holding a baby. Actually, thinking about it, it is not exactly a turning point, more like a continuation of being a woman. I suppose the real turning point in my life must have been around the time I was in my thirties and I had done the film "The last metro" (1980) with François Truffaut. He wrote the part for me and it was a big responsibility. It was more than just playing the wife or the mistress, as usual. And there were huge changes happening in that time. I won my first César - the French Oscar - for that film, and my face became the model of Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic. I suddenly became 'a woman' ".

I ask how seeing herself on stamps and on statues in town squares, and as the face of Chanel, YSL, L'Oréal and MAC, has affected her feelings about herself. "These are things one chooses to do. I don't have any particular worries when I see my face on things like the posters for L'Oréal in airports. It's part of my work. Work is not central to my happiness but it is the essential motor that drives my life".

Born Catherine Dorléac in Paris on October 22, 1943, the third of four voluble daughters (that's where she learnt to speak so quickly, she quips) to Comédie-Française actors Maurice Dorléac and Renée Deneuve, and educated at Catholic schools, she was initially interested in interior design. Her sister Françoise Dorléac, who died in a car crash in 1967, drew her into acting and she adopted her mother's surname. Under the tutelage of Svengali Vadim, her career began to take off in 1965 ; she has since made almost 100 films.

"Initially I wasn't aware that acting is all about inhabiting different people. Later I discovered the liberty in that, in being able to be different people, live through different situations. It is not the only reason to become an actor but it is one of the advantages".

"Acting keeps you on the edge, never complacent. I am still very nervous when I start a job. It is like flying without a parachute and the more you fly the more nervous you get. I still fight against fears, both on stage and in life. I was quite shy and afraid as a child, and I had to make a big effort to conquer it. Like most people, I still have to fight against fear. I did last night, on stage for Marty Scorsese". She laughs huskily, lighting up yet another cigarette. Silly, isn't it ?"

And what about her reputation for being extremely reserved ?

"Oh, that's just the way it comes out," she replies. "I can also behave very, very badly. You know, having an image is rather like a harness when you are someone who likes to have a laugh, dance on tables, embarrass your children. But today, as I have a bit of a cold, I won't".

The divine Deneuve - so much more than a flawless face

Par : Marianne Gray

Film associé : Aucun



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