French actor and filmmaker Jeanne Moreau, known for films such as Jules and Jim, The Trial, The Bride Wore Black, La Femme Nikita, died today at her home in Paris, at the age of 89, according to her agents.
While French actors might have a reputation for perfecting the art of 'cool', it could be said that it was Moreau's work that began this. Daughter of a French restauranteur and an English dancer, she got into acting in the 1950s. Her first big break came when she appeared in Louis Malle's films Lift to the Scaffolding where she took a precarious walk to the sublime music of Miles Davis, and The Lovers (both 1958). But it was in Jules and Jim, about a woman caught between two men, that she became one of the darlings of the French New Wave. Many people forget tht that tie period saw not only a revolution in directing, but a revolution in acting style, and Moreau was one of those who helped develop this particular European acting mode.
This is an actor who, in the span of ten years alone, worked with Malle, Orson Welles, Tony Richardson, Jen-Luc Godard, Francois Truffault, Jacques Demy, Luis Buñuel, and John Frankenheimer. Indeed, Welles once described her as the greatest actress in the world. With her voice that sounded like she had smoked a thousand cigarettes and coule smoke a thousand more, hers was the relaxed cool that was not without heart, but knew how to limit energy spent on the unworthwhile.
Moreau's brand of cool had less to do with frigidity, and more with just not giving a shot; if her heart was there, it was all out there, as in films such as The Bride Wore Black; but if she didn't care, that was your problem, not hers.
She spent much of the 1960s as a singer, recording albums and touring around France. Acting work became more scarce in the 1970s and 80s, but it is likely in Nikita that a new generation discovered her, as the woman who had to make the young assassin learn how to behave like an elegant lady, and in Ever After in 1998, as Drew Barrymore's grandmother.
In a loving tribute, John Waters remembers serving with her on the jury at Cannes, and later inviting her to the French screening of his 2004 film A Dirty Shame, which Moreau called "pure poetry".
She continued to work up until only a few years ago, and apparently never felt nostalgic for her heydeys of the French New Wave, instead insisting on always trying new things. Luckily, we have her bountiful filmography of over 100 films and television appearances to keep us company. Below is a clip from one of her most iconic films, Jules and Jim.