Catherine Deneuve: Making the most of her legendary status

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The Independent Culture

At a black-tie reception at the fourth Bangkok Film Festival recently, Catherine Deneuve was presented with a Golden Kinnaree Award for a Lifetime Achievement in acting. Quite why Deneuve was so honoured by the Thais - she has no obvious connection to Thailand - was a puzzle. At 62 her life is hardly over and she seemed to be going through the motions as she received it, a glazed expression on that iconic face as she marched up and received the statuette with a toss of her imperious and still beautiful mane of hair.

It's not as if she hates the attention - the list of the functions she attends and causes she endorses (including that super-sexy one, the EU constitution) gets longer every month. The films, thin as gossamer for the most part, seem more rarefied every year. Perhaps the persistent rumour circulating at the festival that she was being paid nearly $100,000 simply to come to Thailand had something to do with it. She certainly received a similar pile of cash for attending a party at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival last summer, where she was surrounded with more bodyguards than former president Vaclav Havel, to the astonishment of onlookers.

It's almost as if, preserved in exquisitely rare aspic for something she did an awfully long time ago, she finds it easier simply to perform as Catherine Deneuve in public and get very well paid for doing it. Why mess with a lucrative image by acting in a succession of underperforming movies? Why go through the ghastliness of dealing with Björk's temper tantrums on the set of Dancer in the Dark? Why have to share your awards equally with other actresses in 8 Women?

A quick rifle through Deneuve's public diary of the last 12 months shows a great deal of attendance at public events, fancy magazine launches and fashion shows - and very little in the way of acting in the movies. Soon after her presence in Karlovy Vary, she could be found at the Sochi Festival in Russia - but not before lending her voice to a charity campaigning against cluster bombs. A few weeks later she's opening the Kazakhstan film festival in the middle of nowhere. October is spent pleasantly at several fashion shows. She's also hard at it promoting her new film, Palais Royal!, poor thing, a limp comedy about a royal family. In November she's picking up her own "World Arts Award for lifetime achievement" in Leipzig, and giving Martin Scorsese an award which nobody ever heard about at the Marrakech Film Festival. In January she is in LA at a Vanity Fair party, just before she is asked to present at the Golden Globes. Mere days before she came to Thailand she could be found in London as the new face of Mac cosmetics, her body sheathed in a 1960s-style plastic raincoat of a vivid scarlet sheen.

Perhaps we shouldn't expect too much from Belle de Jour, who began work as a teenager and who seems unwilling to push herself as an actress. The truth is it has never been the same since the publication of her diaries in France in 2004 - to the horror of many of her admirers, who found she had a rather ordinary mind. "The legend is shattered," sniffed the critic in Le Figaro. The "syrupy, banal" musings were the "first faux pas" in the actress's otherwise faultless career.

Deneuve will probably never make a faux pas again, unlike fellow Bangkok Film Festival guest, 83-year-old Christopher Lee - a man never afraid to voice his opinion. In contrast to the French star, his latter years have been his most successful - had he been given an award aged 62, it would have predated Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. In town for a special screening of The Man with The Golden Gun, which he made in Thailand in 1974, the actor was asked to comment on Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. Though he said that Craig should be given a chance, his views on Pierce Brosnan make his position clear. "In my opinion - and I think I know as much, if not more about James Bond than anyone, particularly about the characters on whom Ian [Fleming] told me Bond was based - Pierce Brosnan was by far the best and the closest to the character." Watch out, Mr Bond - Scaramanga has his eye on you again.