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Deneuve : 53, and acting her age

NEW YORK -- Catherine Deneuve is acting her age, and she couldn't be happier. Or busier.

I don't want to grow older than I am, but I don't want to try to be very resistant to reality either, the 53-year-old Deneuve said in a recent interview. I want to be in harmony with my image and what I feel about my age.

No easy feat, considering the film industry's insatiable hunger for fresh, wrinkle-free actresses. But this is Catherine Deneuve, and it's hard to imagine that any filmmaker would turn down the woman who still symbolizes beauty and style to much of the world, and remains a sexy, glamorous object of men's desires.

For an interview at a Manhattan hotel bar, Deneuve is dressed in a light gray pantsuit, black flats and funky, red-rimmed bifocals. She wears a pearl necklace, pearl earrings and a large gold and diamond ring. It's a decidedly more pulled-together look than that of her latest character, a frumpy French philosophy professor involved in a crime-tinged love triangle in Andre Techine's "Les voleurs" ("Thieves").

In a way, it was comfortable, you know ... to have your hair very simple, to have little makeup, to not have to change clothes every day, Deneuve said of the character. I did suffer, because I would see the dailies. Some days, I was really down, Deneuve told a New York audience after a screening for the film, which opens Dec. 25 in some cities and later across the country. But I thought I had to be honest to the character.

The character of Marie -- who loves her student, Juliette, who is in turn sleeping with a police officer -- was a deliberate attempt to get something different, "more human" out of Deneuve, the director said. "I wanted to show the unknown aspect, and the lesser-known parts of Catherine", Techine said in a telephone interview from France.

"The glamour magazine, it's only the surface of things," said Techine, who has directed Deneuve in four films over the last 15 years. He said he wanted to "scratch the surface to get a little more". What he got was an intimate yet motherly portrayal of a woman in love with another woman. He also got an intriguing show of weakness and self-destruction when Marie realizes Juliette (Laurence Cote) has run away, fearing arrest by the police officer (Daniel Auteuil) for a botched car robbery.

He wanted to give me a part where there is understanding, knowledge, love and that sort of despair, you know, of someone who is supposed to know so much about life but finally cannot get to the end, Deneuve said. People who know me know I'm strong, but I'm vulnerable.

Techine, 52, last directed Deneuve in the 1993 release "Ma saison preferee" ("My favorite season"), in which she plays a not very glamorous middle-aged woman trying to decide what to do with her aging mother.

Deneuve seems to revel in such roles, and she credits their existence to directors such as Techine, 52, who most often write movies and parts for her.

I'm lucky. I'm getting older with some directors who are getting older, she joked.

Deneuve also credits the European film industry, which tends to take more risks than Hollywood when it comes to giving over-30 actresses leading roles. Three years ago, Deneuve won a Cesar award -- the French Academy Award -- for best actress for "Indochine", the story of a plantation owner in colonial Vietnam. The role netted an Oscar nomination for Deneuve and the film won best foreign entry. "Les voleurs", meanwhile, was the centerpiece of this year's New York Film Festival. Despite these recent successes, it is the early films and the provocative ones that are still most associated with Deneuve.

In the 1982 release "The hunger", Deneuve played a voracious and beautiful vampire opposite David Bowie and Susan Sarandon, two of her many victims left to live in the misery of everlasting life.

In "Belle de jour", Luis Bunuel's 1967 erotic classic, Deneuve played a repressed housewife who spends her afternoons working in a Paris brothel.

This film has been attached to me, as an actress, for all of my career Deneuve said somewhat incredulously. Even today, some people cannot not ask me about "Belle de jour".

It didn't help that the movie was re-released in 1995 to great fanfare, or that Deneuve has -- in her public persona -- maintained the aura of the unattainable, enigmatic beauty of the title roles in both "The hunger" and "Belle de jour".

Deneuve rarely grants interviews. And her image is rather intimidating: In addition to being the onetime face of Chanel No. 5 and the longtime patron-muse of designer Yves Saint Laurent, she also was the model for the national female symbol of France, "Marianne". But in person, she is warm and natural. She laughs and shows a mother's pride and excitement when she talks about the arrival the following day of her daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, also promoting a film at the festival. Chiara, who plays opposite her father Marcello Mastroianni in "Three lives and only one death", is of the generation of actresses that should be pushing Deneuve out of the industry.

But Deneuve is still one of the busiest actresses in the world, averaging at least two films a year and showing no signs of slowing down.

The parts today are warmer, deeper, sometimes, she said. Because when you don't show a woman in a love situation (with a man), there is something else you have to say about her life.

Par : Nicole Winfield

Film associé : Les voleurs, Indochine, Ma saison préférée, Les prédateurs, Belle de jour

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