The un­ex­pected was her forte

French ac­tress Jeanne Moreau was a charm­ing mix of con­tra­dic­tions.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - KEN­NETH TU­RAN FILM CRITIC ken­neth.tu­ran @la­times.com

Film critic Ken­neth Tu­ran re­mem­bers his friend, the late Jeanne Moreau.

It was news I had been dread­ing for years, and it came Mon­day. Jeanne Moreau is dead at 89.

As a critic, writ­ing about ac­tors is part of the job, but you don’t or­di­nar­ily meet them, much less form any kind of re­la­tion­ship with them. But Jeanne was dif­fer­ent, and a copy of the New York Times was the start of it all.

In 1996, Jeanne was chair­man of the Mon­treal World Film Fes­ti­val jury that I was a mem­ber of, and my ini­tial im­pres­sion, that she was si­mul­ta­ne­ously spon­ta­neous, con­sci­en­tious and play­ful, never changed. As nov­el­ist Na­dine Gordimer, who’d been on a jury with her at Cannes, said, she was “an un­likely com­bi­na­tion, both im­pe­ri­ous and lov­able.”

Though she didn’t re­ally re­mem­ber, I’d met Jeanne years ear­lier, as a Wash­ing­ton Post jour­nal­ist when she came through town pro­mot­ing 1976’s “Lu­miere,” her first film as a di­rec­tor.

“It’s very im­por­tant that women make films,” she’d said with typ­i­cal in­tel­li­gence and di­rect­ness. “In this huge con­cert, with a ma­jor­ity of mas­cu­line in­stru­ments, maybe some fem­i­nine in­stru­ments would bring a lit­tle har­mony.”

A jury ex­pe­ri­ence is more time in­ten­sive than an in­ter­view, as is track­ing down the New York Times, a per­sonal ob­ses­sion, in a for­eign coun­try. When Jeanne, a fel­low ad­dict, saw me read­ing a copy and asked where I’d found it, I of­fered to buy one for her as well, and things went on from there.

Ju­ries rou­tinely ex­change con­tact in­for­ma­tion when the fes­ti­val is over, and Jeanne and I kept in touch. Be­cause my wife has lived in Paris, we go back fre­quently, and it be­came a rit­ual to call Jeanne up and go to din­ner, of­ten in her neigh­bor­hood in the 16th ar­rondisse­ment.

Jeanne liked restau­rants that knew her, that would not make a fuss. She couldn’t care less about some of the perks of star­dom — she would call us her­self at our ho­tel, which made an im­pres­sion on the desk clerks — but she was far from in­dif­fer­ent to them. Her phi­los­o­phy, she once told me, was “Don’t run away from fame, use it.”

Though she would do so if called upon, Jeanne did not es­pe­cially want to talk about the past. Like many artists, it was in­vari­ably her next project that in­ter­ested her the most.

“Most peo­ple feel act­ing is pre­tend­ing, but for me it is not that,” she’d said to me in the Post in­ter­view. “It is to feel to the core of your body and mind so you can ex­press your­self, open your­self up and be truer than life.”

Once, vis­it­ing her in her apart­ment in a small but beau­ti­ful court­yard build­ing, I com­mented on the enor­mous tubs of stun­ning red roses. Oh, she said with a be­mused shrug, they came reg­u­larly from a di­rec­tor who was im­por­tun­ing her to take a part. Just the way things are when you are who she was.

Jeanne had an imp­ish sense of hu­mor and an enor­mous sense of fun, some­times in an al­most child­like way. Dur­ing a Christ­mas sea­son visit, she of­fered us slices of galette des roi ,a cake with a small crown hid­den in­side that is a French Epiphany tra­di­tion. I can still see her ex­pres­sion of de­light when it ap­peared in my wife’s slice.

What in­vari­ably struck me about Jeanne was her enor­mous cu­rios­ity, her for­mi­da­ble in­tel­li­gence and her pas­sion for knowl­edge. Ev­ery­thing from brain sci­ence to Bud­dhism in­ter­ested her deeply, she rarely said any­thing ex­pected, and con­ver­sa­tion with her was al­ways in­tense and in­volv­ing no mat­ter what the sub­ject. Jeanne was pas­sion­ate about more than act­ing, and even ca­sual ob­ser­va­tions like “gen­eros­ity is a tal­ent” had heft when she said them.

For the past few years, the phone calls and emails went unan­swered and the reg­u­lar vis­its ended, as did Jeanne’s film ap­pear­ances. Mu­tual friends whis­pered she was not well, but I had no way of know­ing for sure. I dreaded the worst.

Jeanne’s sense of her­self as on a quest, as a per­son who had an ex­cep­tional path be­fore her, had al­ways been strong. Of all the sto­ries she told me, the one I re­mem­ber most was a par­tic­u­larly pointed one from child­hood.

At a young age, Jeanne said, she’d gone to the Paris po­lice sta­tion near her home and told the of­fi­cer on duty that there must be some mis­take, the un­in­ter­est­ing peo­ple she was liv­ing with could not pos­si­bly be her par­ents. Those par­ents were un­der­stand­ably in­censed when they came to pick her up, but Jeanne couldn’t have cared less. She was an artist on a mis­sion, and from then to now that’s all that mat­tered.

Rialto Pic­tures

Rialto Pic­tures

JEANNE MOREAU stars as Florence Car­ala in di­rec­tor Louis Malle’s 1958 film “El­e­va­tor to the Gal­lows.”

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