I cannot remember the first time I ever laid eyes on Catherine Deneuve before Roman Polanski’s black and white psychological thriller Repulsion, but the impression has left an indelible memory I shall forever reference. Dark and haunting, the film deals with the horror that can lurk on the inside (the scariest kind), insinuating the damage that can lie dormant in otherwise perfect-looking people.
Although she was adorable in the 1969 Hollywood movie The April Fools with Jack Lemmon, I must admit, I do prefer her when she plays a troubled, multi-dimensional mystery, someone you never quite understand. She’s the Miss World of French cinema, an icon of a world more interested in exploring the inner lives of women, even if they do happen to be blonde and absolutely beautiful.
In Belle de Jour, she plays a bored and totally disconnected housewife, the epitome of everything bourgeois, with a husband playing a French Ken to her French Barbie. Wearing the finest late ’60s Yves St Laurent, hair neatly styled into a tight black hat and wraparound black shades, she finds herself in a brothel and begins twilighting as a prostitute.
There’s nothing comfortably salacious about this situation however, the director Louis Bunuel is clearly revealing sexual trauma, not a standard invitation to an objectifying leer. There’s seriousness there, a cold knowing, and most of all, a distance that makes her beguiling to watch.
Over the ’60s and ’70s, she had her signature hair and make-up style, a quintessentially Parisian take on my favourite period.
She was known for her splendiferously styled hairdos, created by the great Alexander of Paris and to this day I have never, ever seen a picture of her hair un-coiffed. It was many shades of bleached over the years and sprayed in a way that Elnett must have aimed for when designing the lady on the side of the long gold canister.
A hair-princess with a sense of tragedy, had something happened in her life to make it stand still? Someone who inspires questions like this, however much projected, is the perfect muse. Her dark, dark brown eyes, that never seemed to smile whenever her pretty mouth did and even then, only ever so slightly.
The way she always had a deliberately drawn-in socket line, her insouciantly arched eyebrows, all ‘put together’, like her characters, so perfectly.