Catherine Deneuve, the grande dame of French cinema

This film, so beautiful, so important to me, becomes an unhappy memory and I won’t be able to see it for years.

Catherine Deneuve, in “Elle” in 2002

If Catherine Deneuve always said that she got into cinema a little by accident, her sister Françoise Dorléac has never hidden her ambitions as an actress. In 1966, the 24-year-old told L’Express: “You know, I want to be a star. Don’t laugh, I want to be a star, I want the top or nothing. It will never be high enough for my liking. I’m naturally dissatisfied, if I’ve reached what I envision as the top at the moment, I’ll find that it’s still very low.

It was she who convinced the then 16-year-old Catherine to play the role of her sister in Les Portes Clament by Michel Fermaud and Jacques Poitrenaud in 1960. In order not to overshadow this sister with ambitions greater than hers, Catherine had also decided very quickly in her career to adopt Deneuve, her mother’s surname, as her stage name.

When The Umbrellas of Cherbourg triumphed in Cannes in 1964, Catherine Deneuve was torn between the film’s success and the disappointment of her sister, who was also defending The Soft Skin on the Croisette. A feature film by Truffaut that was also intended to compete for the Palme but was very poorly received by critics.

And even if Françoise gets the triumph of her youngest, the two sisters decide never to perform together again, in order to avoid competition from the media and criticism. A promise they fail to keep when, in 1966, they are offered the role of twin sisters in Jacques Demy’s musical comedy, once again linked to the composer Michel Legrand.

“Les demoiselles de Rochefort” shows the 25-year-old twins Delphine and Solange. The first gives dance lessons, the second music theory lessons. They live from music and dream of meeting true love. As in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, the voices of the actresses are dubbed here.

>> To see: the trailer for the film “Les demoiselles de Rochefort” by Jacques Demy

To prepare for their roles, the two sisters go to London, take dance lessons and practice reading the lyrics to songs they have already recorded. Moments that rekindle their bond. “I have extraordinary memories of this shoot, especially because Françoise (…) Demy’s film allowed us to reunite. In addition, since we are twins in the film, this relationship helped immerse us in the atmosphere of our youth.” Catherine Deneuve wrote in her 1996 book Her Name was Françoise….

A light-hearted and light film, a tribute to the American musical Les demoiselles de Rochefort, was released in March 1967 and became an international success thanks to the English dubbing.

On June 26 of the same year, Françoise Dorléac had to travel to London to see the film. As she drives way too fast towards Nice Airport, her car goes off the road and catches fire. The 25-year-old died in the accident.

Catherine is devastated by the loss of her sister. In the years that followed, she chained together projects that did not shape her filmography but saved her from sinking. It will be a long time before the actress can even speak publicly about her beloved sister.

At the time of Françoise’s death, Catherine Deneuve had been married to English photographer David Bailey since 1965. The couple settled in London, but gradually the actress and her husband move away. At the end of 1967, Catherine Deneuve decided to stay in Paris permanently and left her husband. The divorce is pronounced in 1972.

Actress Catherine Deneuve and her husband, British photographer David Bailey. [AFP]

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