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|Also Known As:||C. Denis Dengate||Died:|
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A paradigm of Gallic beauty, Catherine Deneuve's flawless features and chilly onscreen persona made her the art house muse of Europe's greatest directors and an unrelenting object of desire for men the world over. Though her talent was undisputed, it was often overshadowed by her extraordinary beauty. Any doubts that she was fated to be a star were dispelled once Jacques Demy cast her in his critically acclaimed feature film musical "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964). Three years later, the French actress became an international movie star after starring as a bored housewife who fulfills her sexual fantasies while working as an afternoon call girl in Luis Bunuel's classic, "Belle de Jour" (1967). Living a glamorous life filled with more than its share of drama and passion, the great beauty proved herself a great artist as well, particularly as she aged and played down that which had made her famous.
The third child of four daughters, she was born Catherine Fabienne Dorleac on Oct. 22, 1943 in Paris, France to stage actors Maurice Dorleac and Renee Deneuve. Unlike her extroverted sister, Francoise, who was one year her senior, Deneuve's interests lied more with graphic art than acting, but her stunning features and family history would dictate her fate in front of the camera. She first waded into the acting pool as a teenager when Francoise convinced Deneuve to audition for the part of her sister in the feature film, "Les Portes Claquent" (1960). The experience did little to convince the shy teen that she wanted to make acting a habit. In spite of her indifference, success came quickly. If that was not enough to persuade her, then an encounter with a famous French director would.
Roger Vadim - former husband of famous French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot and American actress Jane Fonda - was a known as a bit of a Svengali with a reputation for attracting beautiful younger women, despite his own peculiar visage. Stunning and only 17 years old, Deneuve fit Vadim's requirements perfectly. He was 32 years old when he began romancing the teenage starlet, so it was not long before Deneuve left the close-knit confines of her parent's home to live with the possessive director. Deeply in love with Vadim, it was because of him that Deneuve made a possibly life altering decision. She dyed her naturally brown hair to blonde to please her man, thus unwittingly cementing her destiny as one of the most sought after, yet elusive blonde goddesses in French cinema history. In 1963, Vadim directed Deneuve in the disappointing "La Vice et la Vertu," in which the still green actress gave a rare bland performance, as Justine, the beacon of innocence and virtue versus evil, in a script loosely inspired by the Marquis de Sade and set during the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1944.
While there was no shortage of starring roles with world renowed directors, Deneuve's personal life ran less smoothly. At the age of 19, she found herself pregnant with Vadim's child. Just month after giving birth to their son, Christian, in 1963, the relationship with Vadim ended, leaving her to face the daunting task of raising a child as a single mother. In an ironic twist of fate, her real life began to resemble her art, as Deneuve soon began filming "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," portraying a young girl who enters a loveless marriage with a rich man, after she is left pregnant and alone when her boyfriend is sent to war (1964). The experience of being able to channel her own pain and fears into her performance suddenly ignited within her a newfound passion for acting.
Controversial director, Roman Polanski was no different than the rest of Europe's hot directors, in his desire to work with the young and relatively inexperienced actress. In her English speaking film debut, he cast Deneuve in his thriller masterpiece "Repulsion" (1965). In it, Deneuve delivered a creepy performance, as Carol, a sexually repressed, paranoid schizophrenic, whose descent into madness results with her murdering men who lust after her.
In 1967, Deneuve was having a landmark year, hitting amazing career highs and suffering unspeakable personal lows. She starred in the most iconic role of her career in "Belle de Jour," confirming her as not only a movie star, but as a fashion icon as well. She was not only the fantasy of Europe's greatest directors; she also became the muse of legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who was inspired by Deneuve after designing her timelessly chic wardrobe for "Belle de Jour." That same year, she co-starred with her sister Francois Dorleac in "The Young Girls of Rochefort," (1967), directed by one of her favorite filmmakers, Jacques Demy.
At the age of just 24, Deneuve was already a major movie star and sitting on top of the world. However, that same year, she would suffer one of the greatest losses of her young life when her beloved older sister, Francois, was killed in a fatal car accident on the French Riviera at the age of 25. The sisters were extremely close and Deneuve was devastated. Despite her grief - or perhaps because of it - Deneuve barely paused to catch her breath in the wake of her sister's death, working continuously. Though Deneuve found Spanish director, Luis Bunuel, difficult to work with the first time, she wisely reteamed with her "Belle de Jour" director in "Tristana" (1970). Yet again, she expertly portrayed the innocent beauty exploited by a lecherous older man; however, unlike in "Belle," this time her character achieved independence and eventually exacted revenge on the man who exploited her. Critics raved and the film garnered an Academy Award nomination for "Best Foreign Language Film."
With her career at its peak, Deneuve shifted focus to finding true love - someone who could love her for her and not the larger-than-life Venus on the screen. Never suffering from a shortage of male companionship, Deneuve was pursued relentlessly by all manner of men. However, getting a relationship to stick was another story. In 1965, she married hipster British photographer David Bailey. They separated in 1970, officially divorcing in 1972. By that time, Deneuve had already moved on to a very public affair with her married "La Cagna" (1971) co-star, Marcello Mastroianni. That same year, Deneuve gave birth for the second time, to their daughter Chiara Mastroianni. The relationship with Mastroianni hit a wall in 1975, but the two remained friends until his death in 1996, when Deneuve and their daughter both sat at his bedside to bid him goodbye. Not all men were durable enough to withstand Deneuve's intoxicating charms. Such was the case for director, Francoise Truffaut. Exactly when Truffaut and Deneuve had an affair was unclear, but reportedly he had a nervous breakdown when she ended the relationship. It was perhaps around that time when Truffaut cast Deneuve in one of her few villainous roles, playing a mail order bride who absconds with her naïve husband's money in "Mississippi Mermaid" (1969).
The 1970s found the constantly employed actress adding model to her resume when she signed on as the face of Chanel No 5. The campaign was a huge success around the world; particularly in the U.S., where sales soared. In the ensuing decades, Deneuve's enduring beauty would continue to win her lucrative endorsement deals. At the unheard of age of 62, she inked a deal with Mac Cosmetics in 2006, and a year later, nabbed a contract modeling for Louis Vuitton.
Americans were so intrigued with the French beauty that the American press nominated her as the world's most elegant woman. Deneuve made a few attempts at acting in American films, but despite her stardom in France and America's fascination with the face of Chanel, Deneuve and Hollywood never totally clicked. In 1969, she had starred with Jack Lemmon in the comedy "The April Fools" (1969), as a couple who fall in love with each other, but with one caveat - they are unhappily married to other people, The film did little to raise Deneuve's profile in the states, but six years later, she returned to U.S. theaters as half of one of the most mismatched pairs in film history when she co-starred with Burt Reynolds in the crime drama, "Hustle" (1975). Though the reviews were decent, it barely made a dent at the box office.
By 1980, Francoise Truffaut had recovered from his breakup with Deneuve enough to direct her in "The Last Metro" (1980). Set in Paris during the Nazi occupation, Deneuve played a woman trying to conceal her Jewish husband from the Nazis while also trying to keep the rest of their lives afloat. The film won an Academy Award for "Best Foreign Language Film" and Deneuve took home the French Cesar for Best Actress.
Deneuve's third Hollywood strike was in 1983 when she leapt at the chance to star as a seductive vampire in the slick Tony Scott feature, "The Hunger" (1983). Deneuve and David Bowie portrayed a stylish, vampire couple living in Manhattan who set out in search of new blood; they soon meet and seduce Sarah (Susan Sarandon), making her one of the un-dead. For once, Deneuve was playing the powerful seducer and not the seduced. Critics generally hated the movie, but it developed a cult following among Goths and lesbians for its dark tone and Sapphic love scenes between Deneuve and Sarandon.
After her uneventful forays into Hollywood, Deneuve was always happy to return to her homeland and her usual fare of art house projects. It was, after all, where her best roles came from. As was the case in 1992 when, at the age of 49, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture for her portrayal of a plantation owner in 1930s Indochina in "Indochine" (1992). Deneuve lost the statue to Emma Thompson for her role in "Howard's End," but "Indochine" took the Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and Deneuve won a Cesar for Best Actress.
By the late 1990s, she was well past the age when most American actresses would be virtually forced into retirement. Fortunately, for Deneuve, the French were more forgiving of women over 30 and she continued working at her usual productive pace. Still beautiful, yet no longer defined by her beauty, Deneuve was finally free to take on roles other than of the fantasy woman. That was never more clear than when she co-starred in "Dancer in the Dark" (2000) with the eccentric Icelandic singer, Bjork, in which she portrayed the singer's factory worker sidekick, of all things. Deneuve had seen director Lars Von Trier's "Breaking the Waves" (1996) and was so impressed with the Danish director; she wrote him a letter requesting a part in one of his upcoming projects. He obliged, and her performance provided further proof - though none was needed by this time of her life - that she was much more than a pretty face, and had always been.
Deneuve made another brief return to Hollywood in 2006, following in the footsteps of other stars vying to make guest appearances on the outrageous drama series "Nip/Tuck" (FX 2003-10). Her character was no less over-the-top than the series itself, with Deneuve portraying a grief stricken mistress who wants her deceased lover's ashes inserted into her breast implants; that is, until her former lover's angry wife storms the office and ends the romantically creepy gesture. A year later, in true Deneuve fashion, she chose another unique project; lending her voice to the edgy Academy Award-nominated French animated feature, "Persepolis" (2007). Based on the graphic/memoir novels by Marjane Satrapi, the film was praised for its anti-Disney heroine, a rebellious, teenaged Iranian girl who loves heavy metal. Keeping it all in the family, Deneuve's real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni voiced the teenage girl in the critically acclaimed hit.
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