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
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  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.”