Close Up and Personal by Catherine Deneuve

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The Independent Culture

The film director John Boorman used to tell a story about how he first met Catherine Deneuve. It happened in Paris during 1973 when he went to visit his friend, the Italian movie star Marcello Mastroianni. At the time, the English film-maker felt more than a bit jealous of his friend, for not only was Mastroianni living in a beautiful modern Parisian apartment - "glass tables, white furniture and chrome, that sort of thing" - he was living with Catherine Deneuve. Yet once the director had been introduced to her Deneuve went off to make coffee and, as soon as she disappeared, Mastroianni turned to Boorman and whispered, "John, you have no idea what my life is like here. She is so..." He gestured at the cool décor, "so cold." "Somehow," Boorman recalled, "Marcello made me feel sorry for the fact he lived with the divine Deneuve."

Yet this isn't so unbelievable, because that is certainly our image of Catherine Deneuve: the glacial beauty that adorns films and movie posters, the cool icon and model for Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic, the elegant muse of Yves Saint Laurent, the classic face of Chanel No 5. Yet now, after reigning for four decades as the ice queen of European cinema, Deneuve has published her diaries, her "personal record of the shooting of films, the chronicles of my doubts". So do her observations reveal her doubts, her feelings behind the flawless image?

Yes, but unfortunately the emotions she bares here are all too often anodyne ones. She writes that "I don't care anymore" or "I'm bored" during various films and confines her comments about film-makers to the repeated requirement that directors "must know what they want". These are truisms known to anyone who has experienced the debilitating mechanics and hurry-up-and-wait atmosphere of a film set.

For a would-be memoirist, Deneuve also sets herself insurmountable obstacles. She refuses to be "judgmental" because the "power of the written word can be terrible, terrible". There is gap of over 20 years between 1969 and 1991 in which she commits nothing to paper about films by directors of the calibre of Truffaut, Chabrol and Jean Pierre Melville. It's understandable that she should bypass parts in forgettable films, but neither does she give an account of her two most famous roles of that period: that of the bedsit-bound sociopath whose brain deteriorates along with the contents of her fridge in Polanski's Repulsion or her chic bourgeoise who turns tricks by day in Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour. There is, however, one exception, one revealing report from one of her sets that cries out for more of the same kind of attention.

Deneuve was justifiably afraid of Bunuel. Even before shooting begins on their 1969 film, Tristana, Deneuve notes that "Don Luis doesn't treat his actors particularly gently." But despite feeling like "a useless object" and being told at the outset of the film to "above all spare us the psychology", the actress keeps a close eye on the master movie-maker.

She tells us how Bunuel uses objects not only to illustrate her character but the world she lives in, how the director "likes to take the emotion out of serious moments, he prefers to avert his gaze." Also she notes that like Hitchcock and Roberto Rosselini and unlike modern movie-makers, sequences that connected a film's storyline held little interest for Bunuel. "He injects surrealism into the most classic, traditional scenes, for which he has little patience," and then quotes a line which no director would dare to utter today. "We always write nonsense, that's how you get contradictory scenes."

Last year, when these diaries were published in France, they were dismissed as vapid with one paper even suggesting that Deneuve made Marilyn Monroe sound like an intellectual. But what is revealed in this book is a woman who keeps her intellect on ice, who rarely allows her heart to catch fire. Indeed, in her determination to divulge so little by way of observation or opinion, Deneuve demonstrates that she suffers not so much from an empty mind as a refusal to allow an open one.

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