PARIS — French actress Jeanne Moreau, the smoky-voiced femme fatale of the French New Wave who starred in Francois Truffaut’s love triangle film “Jules and Jim” and worked with many other acclaimed directors during a decades-long career, has died at 89.
Outspoken, provocative and acting well into her 80s, Moreau was among France’s most-recognized performers. President Emmanuel Macron celebrated Moreau for going beyond earlier roles as a screen siren to embrace other genres, starring in comedies and action films.
“That was her freedom … always rebellious against the established order,” Macron said in a statement. “(She had) a spark in her eye that defied reverence and was an invitation to insolence, to liberty, to this whirlpool of life that she loved so much. And that she made us love.”
The president’s office and Moreau’s agent announced her death Monday without providing a cause.
Starting in the early 1960s, Moreau was the most prominent actress of the French New Wave, with her brooding, downturned mouth and distinctive blend of sensuality, intellect and resolve. Her performance as Catherine in Truffaut’s 1962 “Jules and Jim,” in which she played the love interest in a groundbreaking romance about two friends vying for the same woman, was among her most well-known. She also worked with Truffaut on the Hitchcock-inspired thriller “The Bride Wore Black,” in which she starred as a woman who tracks down the men who murdered her husband on her wedding day.
Other notable films included Luis Bunuel’s “Diary of a Chambermaid,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s “La Notte” (“The Night”) and Orson Welles’ “The Chimes at Midnight,” in which she played the prostitute Doll Tearsheet in Welles’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part II.” She later made a brief appearance in the international hit “La Femme Nikita” and provided narration for the “The Lover.”
She was born in Paris on Jan. 23, 1928, to a French father and English mother who danced at the Folies-Bergere. Moreau starred in her first feature film in 1949 and last appeared in the 2015 comedy “My Friends’ Talent.”
She broke through in 1958 with Louis Malle’s “Les Amants,” or “The Lovers,” a modern version of “Madame Bovary” about a bored wife who drives off with a virtual stranger — including a scene so erotic for the time that the French government nearly banned the film.
Thanks to her striking looks and impulsive characters, some called her the French Bette Davis. Moreau often played women of experience, and off screen she had so many lovers she once boasted to a reporter she wanted to build a house and fill it with her favorite men. Even romantic rivals paid tribute, among them Vanessa Redgrave, whose then-husband, filmmaker Tony Richardson, had an affair with Moreau in the 1960s.
“Any man who didn’t love Jeanne Moreau would have to be blind and deaf. … I, of the same feminine gender, have the same admiration and awe and respect,” Redgrave told The Associated Press in 1995.
Moreau starred in more than 100 films, recorded albums, won an honorary Oscar in 1998 for lifetime achievement and numerous French cinema and theater awards, and presided over the jury at the Cannes Film Festival twice. After a lull in the 1970s and 1980s, her career picked up again.
She had a son, Jerome, in 1949 from her first marriage to Jean-Louis Richard. In a 2012 interview, she told Madame Figaro: “I had a child. I didn’t want it. I know that shocks many women, but I’m not maternal.”
She had a brief marriage in the 1970s to William Friedkin, the Oscar-winning director of “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist.” She also had a high-profile, five-year relationship with designer Pierre Cardin, described by both as “true love” although they never married.
She described aging in a 1994 interview with the AP, recalling a moment in her late 30s when she discovered her first wrinkle.
“For about a week, suddenly, I have the real feeling of decay. That’s what life is about,” she said. But after a while, she said, “The inner voice said, ‘Well, and so what? So you think you’re exceptional? Like anybody, you’re going to die. So what is important? Is it the path you have to follow or a bloody wrinkle?’ Well, OK, the voice is right: Let’s go on.”
She decried people who cling to the past, saying, “Luckily, my nature is … to go forward, to take risks. That means sometimes I am scared stiff.”