Belle Deneuve

THE STAR OF SUCH ICONIC FRENCH SCREEN CLAS­SICS AS Belle de Jour AND LONG A DENIZEN OF THE BEAU MONDE, Cather­ine Deneuve VIS­ITS HONG KONG TO PRO­MOTE GAL­LIC CUL­TURE AND HER LAT­EST FILM. SHE TALKS TO Melissa Twigg

Hong Kong Tatler - - Close-up -

She has been called France’s great­est film star and the most beau­ti­ful woman in the world. She was once the muse of Yves Saint Lau­rent, the face of Chanel No 5, the lover of direc­tors Roger Vadim and François Truf­faut, and the wife of pho­tog­ra­pher David Bai­ley. For all her work on-screen, be­ing Cather­ine Deneuve has long been a role in it­self.

That re­mark­able past is ev­i­dent in the im­pec­ca­bly stylish woman who meets me in a suite of The Penin­sula Hong Kong. Smoking a cig­a­rette and leaf­ing through Vogue, she glances up with a stereo­typ­i­cally French com­bi­na­tion of bore­dom and sul­tri­ness and pushes the mag­a­zine to one side with a sigh. Dressed in sim­ple black trousers and a white T-shirt, her only ac­ces­sory is a pair of star­tlingly blue am­ber ear­rings that high­light her ex­cep­tional face. The full mouth, the green eyes, the im­pos­si­ble bone struc­ture—at 70, Deneuve’s beauty has yet to fade.

“After a cer­tain age, it is harder for an ac­tress to find work,” she says, light­ing another cig­a­rette. “But I would say that is more true of Amer­ica, where the cult of youth never fails to as­tound me, than it is in Europe, a place where a woman’s beauty and tal­ents are not placed within strict age lim­its. But I have been in the in­dus­try for a very long time; per­haps it is eas­ier for me.”

In­deed. Deneuve has been a house­hold name in France for 57 years and has made more than 100 films around the world. In her youth she was famed for her re­serve and de­scribed as the “ice queen” of French cin­ema, but as she grew into wom­an­hood, so did her scripts; be­fore long she was of­fered the sultriest parts in French cin­ema, with ti­tle roles in films such as Belle de Jour (1967) and Manon 70 (1968).

“I was very lucky to get char­ac­ters with such big re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” she says in her soft Parisian ac­cent. “Truf­faut in par­tic­u­lar gave me meaty, re­al­is­tic parts, which was un­usual in those days, as we were so of­ten the pretty ac­ces­sory to the male character. The Last Metro [1980] was my big­gest chal­lenge pro­fes­sion­ally but also one of the movies I am most proud of. Work­ing with stim­u­lat­ing direc­tors from a very young age made me picky about my parts; I want in­ter­est­ing roles above all.”

Deneuve’s lat­est film cer­tainly ful­fils that cri­te­rion. In last year’s On My Way, writ­ten and di­rected by her close friend Em­manuelle Ber­cot, Deneuve plays world-weary Bet­tie, the owner of a small provin­cial restau­rant, whose lover of many years has fi­nally left his wife—but for another woman. Plunged into de­pres­sion, Bet­tie is later trans­formed by the ar­rival of her es­tranged daugh­ter and grand­son. “Em­manuelle wrote the script for me, which made it very spe­cial,” says Deneuve. “I loved film­ing in all those beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tions around France, but af­ter­wards many peo­ple said the character was like me. Mais, non! Bet­tie’s life is very far from my own, which is why she was so in­ter­est­ing to play.”

Deneuve is clearly a fan of Asia. “I love my Parisian apart­ment, but I also need to travel,” she says. “When they of­fered me this trip to Hong Kong to pro­mote On My Way, I said yes im­me­di­ately as Asia has al­ways fas­ci­nated me. In par­tic­u­lar, I trea­sure my mem­o­ries of mak­ing In­do­chine (1992) in Viet­nam. I fell in love with the coun­try, the peo­ple and the food. I should visit again, but I am sure it has changed a lot in the last 20 years.”

Look­ing out across Vic­to­ria Har­bour, Deneuve is quiet for a mo­ment and then gives a rare smile. “I have been very lucky in so many ways,” she says. “I don’t know why, but I think it is be­cause I fol­lowed my in­stinct. I know my­self, and I can see my­self clearly, so I al­ways knew what to do.”

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