Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Little Love For Françoise Dorléac

JA from MNPP here. There are enough holes in the sweep of my cinematic knowledge that it doesn't so much resemble Swiss Cheese as it does what Swiss Cheese would resemble if pinned to a dartboard for weeks and then hung up in a shooting gallery and riddled with bullets and then fed through a paper shredder. (Because that's what one does with one's supply of figurative cheese, dontcha know?) Anyway I keep on keeping on, trying to play this undying game of movie catch-up, round and round we go. So when I share the following bit with you, I want you to keep this in mind: I very well could be the last person to have acquired this information on all of Planet Earth. So my own naive sense of discovery might seem... quaint. Just let me have my simple pleasures, I beg of you!

Last evening, I filled in one more gap in Roman Polanski's oeuvre that I've been trying to fill in: his 1966 flick Cul-de-sac. It's not readily available on DVD so it took some finagling. Anyway, Cul-de-sac sits in between Repulsion and The Fearless Vampire Killers in his out-put, and I have to say it's a stellar little seemingly-forgotten flick. Polanski's eye is per usual top notch, and there's just enough off-kilter weirdness to keep the proceedings, while superficially grim, really very funny.

The first thing I took notice of, though, was the female lead. She seemed familiar, but... not. I looked up her name and she's Françoise Dorléac... whom I'd never heard of. I investigated further (bless you, IMDb and Wikipedia) and found out she was Catherine Deneuve's older sister, and she was killed at the age of 25 in a car accident... the details are actually rather terrifying, so I must share:

"Francoise Dorléac was killed when she lost control of the rented Renault 10 she was driving and hit a sign post ten kilometers from Nice at the end of the Esterel-Côte d'Azur motorway. The car flipped over, and burst into flames. She had been en route to Nice airport and was afraid of missing her flight. Dorléac was seen struggling to get out of the car, but was unable to open the door. Police later identified her body only from the fragment of a cheque book, a diary and her driving license."

Horrible. She'd been in 21 films in just 7 years, including Polanski's Cul-de-sac, Truffaut's La peau douce, and Jacques Demy's The Girls of Rochefort, which she co-starred in with her sister. Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of my favorite movies ever, so Rochefort is a film I've been meaning to see for years... as Dorléac was very good in Cul-de-sac, I've got even more fire in me to catch her other work now.

Anyone a fan of her work? She was physically gorgeous to be sure, but also possessed something very real and human that translated wonderfully onto the screen. She fit the Polanski mold - later filled by Sharon Tate, Nastassja Kinski, Emmanuelle Seigner... so on - perfectly. It's a shame she seems to be rather forgotten.


Dame James said...

I'm with you about Francoise. I've only seen two of her films but I think she was great in both of them: The Young Girls of Rochefort, which you mentioned in your entry, and That Man From Rio, a silly James Bond-spoof with the ruggedly handsome Jean-Paul Belmondo. I really need to seek out more of her work as well.

whitney said...

"I've got even more fire in me to catch her other work now."

oh! (said in a kind of Italian mobster way. i.e. The Sopranos)

Too soon?

Anonymous said...

She had a beauty in this movie that was so close to current tastes. I never though of her sister as chunky until now.

Anonymous said...

The Soft Skin is also my favorite Truffaut. I even saw Where the Spies Are on TCM just because she was in it.

Glenn Dunks said...

Never seen her as far as I'm aware, but one of my best friends' least favourite movie of all time is Cul de sac. They loathe it with the burning fire of a thousand suns, closely followed by Repulsion and The Ninth Gate. Needless to say, she's not much of a Polanski fan.


siblings can be so freaky if they're that famous. Because she looks just like Deneuve only NOT. And homeslaughter is right... she does look exceptionally modern (at least in this photo you've shown).

I need to see THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT in the worst way. I can't believe i haven't seen it given that UMBRELLAS is an all-time favorite.

gabrieloak said...

I loved Dorleac in The Soft Skin, Rochefort, and That Man from Rio. I own Billion Dollar Brain but have yet to watch it. It was definitely sad that she died tragically and so young.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to her sister, it's Dorleac who was the real deal back in the '60s. Deneuve, with her too perfect, rather artificial look, had a kind of remote and rigid quality about her back then, therefore her best performances of the period were in films were she was displayed as an icon, and then having this status being manipulated by the likes of Polanski or Bonuel (she would become more approachable and warm as the years mellowed her look. Dorleac had a free, easygoing and very natural aura about her. She oozed intelligence and sophistication. And Soft Skin is indeed a great showcase for her.

The Young Girls of Rochefort is one of my favorite musicals of all time. It's an almost academic study of the abstract artificialness which is the key element of the genre. And it's the – intended – negative of Umbrellas. Where Cherbourg is gloomy, rainy, rooted in a certain historical time and place, Rochefort is a carefree, sunny escapade into never never land (yet there's always a melancholic undercurrent lurking). An utter joy.

Anonymous said...

Try this:

Anonymous said...

I saw That Man From Rio when I was 18 in 1965. From that day to this, Francoise Dorleac remains the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I've lamented her passing for over 40 years now - what a tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Francoise was one of the world's great beauties. Far more beautiful then her sister and with a talent that was still developing at the time of her tragic death. She should never be forgotten

thom said...

I think roman polanski is a sick little fuck and cul de sac is exhibit A

what he did in this movie with the most beautiful woman in the world 1962 is a crime, a cinematic rape where a little man can extrapolate power beyond the imagination of all his revenge fantasies.

( his getting a child drunk and raping her was completely in character)

contrast this with Truffaut and you know why people so love this French man. He is the man who loved women--many at a time, in fact, which is so human, isn't it?

And who, considering the object of his lens focus -- personal and professional -- Francois, Fanny Ardant as the two primary examples, can blame him?

SOFT SKIN is THE FRANCOIS DORLEAC movie and really shows what Francois could have become -- perhaps a garbo, maybe a dietrich. As Deneuve would be the first to admit, her older sister was a natural born actress (Paris's Gigi) and luminous star, while Catherine took a lot of time to be comfortable.

In other words, to realize what we lost, multiple Deneuve's status many times and you have a fair guess as to what Dorleac would have given the world.

BTW, their parents were both leads in Comedie Francaise.

I love Catherine, especially in Indochine, but Francois
is the ultimate.

( Perceptive note by another poster. Yes, sharon tate is similar to francois physically -- but she is also, from accent to clothes to soul, texas to france. I'll take Paris and Roman deserves Dallas. He Is, to me, Repulsion.