Some Years Are Easier than Others


Dining with Catherine Deneuve

The problem with beauty is that it's like being born rich and getting poorer.

- Joan Collins

Nature gives you the face you have when you are 20.  Life shapes the face you have at 30.  But it is up to you to earn the face you have at 50.

- Coco Chanel

by Liz Smith

In Asia de Cuba, one of Manhattan's newest "in" places in the Morgan Hotel, I am meeting a woman who is one of the most mysterious, enigmatic and beautiful in the world, a woman whose profile has been the national symbol on French postage stamps, and whose face once was Chanel.  The restaurant is entered through sensuous, wind-blown curtains, opening onto a noisy but nice ambience.  Upstairs on a balcony, a marble-topped table is set for two.  I watched, waited and - voila! - Catherine Deneuve was being seated next to me.  Had she arrived on little cat's feet?

More earthy and solid than I expected, her bare arms were beautifully tanned.  "It's for my next movie," she offered in almost accentless English, as she dismisses the French water I had ordered and asks for green tea.  Her bountiful blond hair is held behind her ears by a chic bandeau and she is wearing very of-the-moment black oval sunglasses.  She's chattering and fussing like a chic den mother.  This is not the woman who raised eyebrows in Bunuel's Belle de Jour.  Where is the pale and icy restraint, the destructive passion of illicit afternoon sex?  Where is the signature ennui of Roman Polanski's Repulsion?  Where is the silent sophistication of Indochine?

Lunch is ordered quickly because she's not eaten since leaving Paris.  Deneuve picks up her chopsticks and begins to devour the delicious first courses - goose livers, tuna nachos, seafood salad.  We are like old classmates at a long-awaited reunion - oohing and aahing over the food, the decor, the city and how much she wants to see "Cabaret."  She does not hesitate to put food on my plate.  Taste this.  Have we met in another life?

Of course not.  This wonderfully vibrant, sexy scamp is the same young girl I recently saw again in a beautifully restored version of "The Young Girls of Rochefort" (now playing at New York's Film Forum and due in Los Angeles in September, thanks to Miramax-Zoe).  "Oh, I forgot," she laments, "I cannot smoke."  I assure her she can.  We talk of Jacques Demy, the late director who first brought Deneuve to prominence in his award-winning "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and again in "Young Girls."  Exhaling, she says thoughtfully, "Perhaps I would not have remained in films or pursued acting if it hadn't been for Jacques Demy.  He was a single-minded man who never let me think about anything but my career."

"Young Girls" did not get the critical acclaim in the United States that "Umbrellas" received.  Though Demy took the film seriously, it is an archly silly confection.  A film so outrageously corny-as-Kansas-in-August that it is downright delicious and ultimately wildly enjoyable.  The Michel Legrand score trips one along the streets of this small French coastal town where Demy grew up.  The cast is formidable, including Gene Kelly, George Chakiris, Grover Dale, Danielle Darrieux and Michel Piccoli.  But first and foremost are Deneuve and her older sister, Francoise Dorleac, who was tragically killed in an auto accident soon after making this film.

These two beautiful young girls on film are the reason to see "The Young Girls of Rochefort."  Dressed in Jackie-Kennedy-look-alike outfits of the '60s, the pair are a hilarious hoot, playing fraternal twins as they sing and dance and flirt.  Dorleac had all the promise of being a great screen actress.  And it was not until last year, when a TV film on the life of her late sister was released, that Deneuve was able to talk about her loss.  She has been quoted as saying: "I wish I'd expressed my grief before.  It's strange - that desire not to hurt anyone, to stay silent, is not always the best way.  I miss her more than ever since I've been able to talk of her."

What happened to that girl in the film? I ask.  "Oh," giggles Catherine, "she went to Paris, was disappointed, returned home, married a local and today is a middle-aged gardener just like me."  A gardener?  "Oh, yes.  That's all I want to do.  I love my garden.  I would like to work more, of course.  I've read a story on Meryl Streep, and I agree with what she says, that actresses have a difficult time after a certain age."

A few seasons back, "Les Voleurs" was shown in the New York Film Festival.  In it Deneuve is seen naked in a bathtub with a young woman - also nude.  This film is shocking, not because of its content but because of the lighting, which is cruel.  The 54-year-old actress has been quoted as saying, "It was hard to see the daily rushes.  It takes you down.  I have a reasonable attitude toward my appearance, and I don't want to swim against the tide, the flow of time.  I want to control it a little, of course, but I don't want to be in denial."  I can't imagine Deneuve ever needing to deny her age.  She is still quite ravishing.

"I'm not ready to become a Dame as yet.  I don't want the Legion d'Honneur, though it's been offered.  I would prefer the Order of Merit for Agriculture."  A wicked smile accompanies that remark.

Source: Newsday 18 August 1998 distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

How can Denueve have a tan and smoke (which accelerates wrinkling of the skin) yet still look that great at 54?  It's a lot easier to deny yourself denial when you don't have all that much (yet) you have to face up to.

Denueve is adored by people all over the world, has had affairs and children with Marcello Mastroianni and Roger Vadim, her profile is the model for the symbol of France, and everyone wants to sleep with her and she has perfumes named after her and she is a size four.  Nevertheless, she was recently interviewed on the Charlie Rose show on American tv.  When she was asked if she had any regrets, she stared, she paused, and she finally answered, "Of course I do.  I have many regrets."  She proceeded to name them.  Her regrets included her husbands, her film roles, her face(!), and her life.  She was loaded with regrets.

There's a lesson there (somewhere).  My regret is that I haven't quite learned it yet.

Denueve at 61

See also:

bulletClues to Ageing - Scientists have identified a whirling “dervish-like” structure within cells that helps to recycle existing compounds into ATP, the molecule that stores the energy needed for life.  They believe the discovery could point to new methods of slowing the ageing process...
bulletFor lots more on ageing, including feats that can be accomplished and a non-spiritual look at what happens after death - funerals, jerky, popsicles, fertiliser, ashes, orbit or dust - see Over and Under, the section on ageing and beyond.

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