OBITUARY : Madeleine Sologne

Madeleine Sologne's place among French film stars of the 1940s rests mainly on one film, L'Eternel retour (1943), but it is one of the key films of that troubled decade.

Made under the German occupation (with some Italian money), L'Eternel retour was a fantasy based on the myth of Tristan and Iseult, scripted by Jean Cocteau, which, in the words of the film's director, Jean Delannoy, showed that "during this terrible period when one could die an abominable death, one could also die of love". The film is typical of the strong escapist trend in the cinema of the time which took its roots in history or legend - as did other films, such as Marcel Carn's Les Visiteurs du soir (1942) and Les Enfants du paradis (1943-45) - but paradoxically Sologne's success in it was due to her modern appearance.

Sologne and her co-star Jean Marais came to epitomise the romantic couple, in terms of the legend (love triumphs over all obstacles, including death) and of their contemporary look. Both Sologne's smooth blond hairstyle ( la Veronica Lake) and Marais' patterned sweater, designed by the couturier Marcel Rochas (as were Sologne's clothes), were widely copied. Historians disagree about the character of Nathalie (Sologne); some see her as a vacant cypher; others as an example of the prominent women characters who populated the French cinema of the Occupation and were given scope to express sexual or romantic desire. Worse, for many the highlighted blondness and sculptural good looks of both Sologne and Marais evoked a definitely Aryan ideal (the "bad" woman is played by the dark-haired Junie Astor), a view possibly influenced by the fact that a gala premiere took place in Vichy, with Sologne and Marais attending.

Beyond these important topical factors, Sologne's beauty and stylised performance blended modernity with tragedy, a combination she repeated in the lesser-known but fascinating La Foire aux chimres (1946), directed by Pierre Chenal and co-starring Erich von Stroheim. In a wildly melodramatic reprise of Chaplin's City Lights story of 1931, Sologne plays a blind woman whose disfigured benefactor (von Stroheim) goes mad and kills himself when she recovers her sight and leaves him.

Sologne had taken her name from the area she came from - and near which she died - a large expanse of forests and marshes south of Orlans which, quite aptly for her image in L'Eternel retour, is often associated with mystery and legend. Working originally for a Parisian hat designer, Sologne married a cinematographer and first appeared in the collective Popular Front propaganda film La Vie est nous in 1936; she made no less than 14 films in the following two years (though not in starring roles); notable among which are Jacques Feyder's circus drama Les Gens du voyage (1937), Marcel L'Herbier's lush costume film Adrienne Lecouvreur (1938) and Sacha Guitry's historical extravaganza Remontons les Champs-Elyses (1938).

Though she continued to act sporadically up to 1969, neither La Foire aux chimres, nor the films she made subsequently, ever attained the popular or critical success of L'Eternel retour. Possibly because the power of her mythical character in that film was such that it ironically prevented any follow-up, but more likely because post-war French films went in for the more "earthy" sexuality of Simone Signoret and Martine Carol.

Ginette Vincendeau

Madeleine Vouillon (Madeleine Sologne), actress: born La Ferte-Imbault 1912; died Vierzon 31 March 1995.