Friday, January 6, 2012

Jeanne Moreau

The PFA hosted a Jeanne Moreau retrospective in November & December. I saw 9 out of the 12 films in the series although I saw The Bride Wore Black at the Viz which gave it week long run after the PFA series ended.

Bay of Angels starring Moreau and Claude Mann; directed by Jacques Demy; French with subtitles; (1962)
The Lovers starring Moreau & Alain Cuny; directed by Louis Malle; directed by Jacques Demy; French with subtitles; (1958)
Jules and Jim starring Moreau, Oskar Werner & Henri Serre; directed by François Truffaut; French with subtitles; (1961)
Touchez pas au Grisbit starring Jean Gabin & Rene Dary; with Moreau & Lino Ventura; directed by Jacques Becker; French with subtitles; (1953)
The Trial starring Anthony Perkins, Moreau, Romy Schneider & Orson Welles; directed by Orson Welles; (1962)
The Fire Within starring Maurice Ronet; with Moreau; directed by Louis Malle; French with subtitles; (1964)
Mademoiselle starring Etore Manni & Moreau; directed by Tony Richardson; French with subtitles; (1966)
Chimes at Midnight starring Orson Welles; with Keith Baxter, John Gielgud & Moreau; directed by Orson Welles; (1966)
The Bride Wore Black starring Moreau; directed François Truffaut; French with subtitles; (1968)


In several of the films, Moreau had supporting roles. My favorite films of the series was one such film - Touchez pas au Grisbit which translates to "Don't touch the loot." A vehicle for Jean Gabin, Touchez is tale of honor among thieves and double cross.

Jean Gabin plays Max a 50ish gangster who wants to retire with some gold bars he stole. Unfortunately, Max has to carry his partner Riton (René Dary), the weak link and an equally aging playboy lacking the wisdom of his partner. Riton's girlfriend is a Jeanne Moreau who cuckolds him with Lino Ventura (in his film debut). Lino finds out about the gold, kidnaps Riton and offers to ransom him for the gold. The rest of the film involves Max try to rescue Riton & keep the gold.

Touchez pas au Grisbit was in the Golden Era of French crime capers which includes Rififi (1955), Bob le flambeur (1956), Elevator to the Gallows (1958), etc. Gabin's performance in Touchez pas au Grisbit gives the film most of its character. Polite, wise, weary and aware that he is aging, Gabin's Max could easily be mistaken for a corporate CEO or even a cop. Gabin was in a career slump at the time this film was made but his performance revived his career.

In addition to Gabin, the Paris neighborhood (Montmartre) where the film was shot and the sets (such as the bistro which only caters to gangsters) give Touchez pas au Grisbit much of its atmosphere.


A close second was Bay of Angels which was directed by Jacques Demy (Umbrellas of Cherbourg). Moreau dyes her hair platinum blonde and cavorts with Claude Mann in the French Riviera. Mann plays a young bank employee who becomes enamored with gambling. He falls in with Moreau's character, Jackie. Jackie is une femme d'un certain age, married but travelling alone and terribly addicted to gambling. Mann's Jean receives a painful lesson in life courtesy of Jackie but between her platinum locks, decadent lifestyle and the soaring Michel Legrand piano concertos, it almost seems worth it.

After seeing Bay of Angels, there is no doubt that Moreau is a movie star. Even when she is silent, you can't take your eyes off her. There are long stretches where Jackie is silent and expresses desire, desparation, frustration and even self-loathing with facial movements.


Mademoiselle was very compelling also. Moreau plays a small town's mysterious school teacher; I don't believe she is ever addressed by name. Prim and proper...and presumably virginous, I thought Moreau was too old for the role at 40 years of age. By the end of the film, I believe the casting decision was deliberate.

Mademoiselle lusts for a beefy Italian lumberjack whose son is one of her students. Mademoiselle secretly acts on her desires but the man's son discovers the tryst and mademoiselle knows that he knows. What follows is a complex psychological drama where mademoiselle reacts to the threat of her secrets being revealed by arson and flooding, intentionally casting blame on the Italian lumberjacks who are migrant workers. Simultaneously, she becomes resentful towards the boy and humiliates him in class. The boy though seems to want to emulate father even latently desiring mademoiselle. It was all rather fascinating and told in a measured pace.


The Bride Wore Black was François Truffaut's homage to Alfred Hitchcock with Moreau as an avenging angel seeking retribution for her husband's tragicomedic death. The film is engaging enough but Truffaut seems to be going through the motions lacking the dark humor and morbid glee that Hitchcock displayed in his best works.


The Lovers, Jules and Jim, The Trial and Chimes at Midnight are all well known films which I'll skip over due to considerations of my time and inclination. My only comment is that there is a scene in The Trial where Anthony Perkins walks among endless rows of workers at their desks which was visually stunning.

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