Nearly six decades have passed since the 24-year-old Catherine Deneuve, alongside her older sister Françoise Dorléac, portrayed twins in the film The Young Girls of Rochefort.
This movie, featuring a young Gene Kelly as well, marked a turning point for Deneuve, propelling her to international fame, while Françoise’s life and career remained frozen in time.
Coming from a family of actors, Catherine Deneuve, now 79, made her cinematic debut in the 1957 French film The Twilight Girls.
However, it was in 1960 when she truly soared to stardom with her role in the romantic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, where her innate Gallic chic and purity shone through.
This marked the beginning of her collaboration with renowned director Jacques Demy, a partnership that would endure throughout her career.
Deneuve’s dramatic abilities caught the attention of the legendary director-producer Roman Polanski, who cast her in a leading role in the psychological thriller Repulsion.
Her magnificent portrayal of Carol, a homicidal schizophrenic, earned her a lasting reputation as the “ice maiden.”
This image was further solidified in her subsequent award-winning performance in Belle de Jour, where she portrayed a bourgeois housewife with a secret life as a part-time prostitute.
Catherine Deneuve, a mother of one, had the opportunity to share the screen with her older sister in the 1967 musical The Young Girls of Rochefort. Only a year apart in age, the two sisters were closely bonded and bore a striking resemblance to each other, making their roles as twins in the film feel natural.
Tragically, just three months after the release of Rochefort, Deneuve’s sister Françoise, then 25 years old, lost her life in a car accident. Reflecting on this devastating event, Deneuve revealed that it was the most painful experience of her life, robbing her of the joy of living. In an interview with Paris Match, a weekly French magazine, she expressed the profound impact her sister’s loss had on her.
Despite the immense sorrow she carried, Deneuve continued to captivate audiences as a femme fatale draped in Yves St Laurent, embodying the epitome of 1960s glamour.
Renowned as the epitome of French cinema, Catherine Deneuve has amassed an impressive filmography spanning over 60 years, encompassing more than 120 films.
Reflecting on the transformations within the industry, Deneuve commented, “Human nature is multifaceted. There are roles that resonate more with people of my generation. As you age, it’s the same story. You possess a certain experience and depth of character that you simply cannot portray when you’re, let’s say, 30.” She went on to explain, “Finding the right path can be challenging. Aging gracefully seems to be more accepted in Europe than in America, undoubtedly. However, it appears that women nowadays tend to look younger than they did 50 years ago. It’s the evolution of human beings, isn’t it? Forty years ago, a 50-year-old woman looked her age. Today, that’s much less common.”
Despite her immense popularity worldwide, Catherine Deneuve predominantly appeared in French films throughout her career, with only a few English-language roles to her credit.
When asked about her choice to primarily support French cinema, Deneuve shared her perspective, saying, “I have a strong sense of being French, but I also speak Italian and English, so I feel very European. However, I don’t feel particularly connected to English people, for instance. Despite the geographical proximity, there’s a vast difference in sensibility and character between us.” She further elaborated, “We are incredibly distinct. I find myself more aligned with Spanish or Italian individuals than with English people due to the inherent dissimilarity between the Latin and Anglo-Saxon temperaments. Our upbringings have shaped us differently… we are fundamentally diverse.”
Some of her notable roles in English-speaking films include her appearance in “The April Fools” (1969) alongside Jack Lemmon, “Hustle” (1973) with Burt Reynolds, “March or Die” (1977) alongside Gene Hackman, and her memorable portrayal as a lesbian vampire in the cult classic “The Hunger” (1983), where she starred alongside David Bowie and Susan Sarandon.
In 1972, Deneuve ended her marriage with David Bailey, a British photographer whom she had met during a Playboy shoot and married in 1965. Their wedding had notable guests, including Mick Jagger, the frontman of the Rolling Stones. From 1970 to 1974, she was romantically involved with Marcello Mastroianni, an iconic figure in Italian cinema, and they had a daughter together in 1972.
In 1980, Deneuve achieved cinematic magic in the French film “The Last Metro,” for which she received an award nomination. She shared the screen with another renowned French actor, Gérard Depardieu. This marked the beginning of their collaboration, as they went on to appear in a total of 15 films together.
Speaking about Depardieu, Deneuve remarked that they share similar work habits, stating, “We are both instinctive actors who prefer to arrive on set and determine our actions in the moment rather than rehearsing extensively beforehand.”
During the 1990s, Catherine Deneuve garnered critical acclaim and recognition, receiving an Oscar nomination and a César Award, the prestigious French national film award, for her outstanding performance in the French period drama “Indochine.” This 1992 film also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The 2000s marked a new chapter in Deneuve’s career with a series of remarkable performances. She starred in the award-winning musical drama “Dancer in the Dark,” alongside the unconventional Icelandic singer Björk. Later, in 2010, she appeared in “Potiche,” marking her eighth collaboration with Gérard Depardieu.
After her role in the 2019 film “The Truth,” alongside Ethan Hawke and Juliette Binoche, Deneuve was working on the French film “Peaceful” when she suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. Although her family described it as a “very limited” ischemic stroke, production on the movie was put on hold until July 2020 when Deneuve, then 76 years old, made a successful return. Following the stroke, Deneuve, who had been a smoker since the age of 16, decided to quit smoking, a habit she had finally abandoned after spending one month in the hospital.
In recognition of her illustrious career, Catherine Deneuve received a lifetime achievement award at the esteemed Venice Film Festival in 2022. As she celebrates her 80th birthday this year, the iconic French actress continues to shine, and we eagerly anticipate her future projects.
Catherine Deneuve is an absolute legend, and we are incredibly fortunate to witness her extraordinary talent. What are your favorite foreign films featuring Deneuve?