Gérard Blain and Bernadette Lafont in Les Mistons
I thought I’d cast around for a more unusual choice and I remembered Bernadette Lafont (b. 1938) who could claim to be the first star of La nouvelle vague as the young woman whose dancer’s legs flashing beneath her billowing skirts as she cycles by fascinate the young boys in Truffaut’s short, Les Mistons (1957). The film was set in her home town of Nimes and her co-star was Gérard Blain, who also went on to star in films by Chabrol and Godard.
In 1958 she appeared with Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy in Chabrol’s Le beau serge in 1958 and then again in a smaller role alongside Jean-Paul Belmondo in A double tour for Chabrol in 1959.
The Chabrol film that I remember and which is one of my favourite nouvelle vague films, is Les bonnes femmes (1960) in which she is one of the shopgirls referred to in the title. Le godelureaux (1961) is a rare Chabrol in which she starred opposite Jean-Claud Brialy. After this she seems to have had many smaller roles in a range of films including titles directed by Louis Malle and Jacques Rivette. Later lead roles came in Nelly Kaplan’s feminist comedy,La fiancée du pirate (1969) and Truffaut’s Une belle femme comme moi (1972) and then the lead opposite Jean-Pierre Léaud in Jean Eustache’s La maman et la putain (1974).
Bernadette Lafont with Jean-Claude Brialy
Bernadette Lafont is still working and I realise that I saw her only a few years ago in the romantic comedy I Do (Prête-moi ta main, 2006). She has nearly 170 credits on IMDB. Not conventionally beautiful, but very definitely physically attractive, Bernadette Lafont has clearly been well suited to comedy and this has perhaps been her greatest strength. As the list of credits above suggests, she worked with many New Wave directors and starred with the leading men of the movement. She seems to me very ‘French’ (and no, I don’t really know what that means, it’s just an instinctive feeling!). This YouTube clip shows her being interviewed for a promo on Les Bonnes Femmes.
Here’s the trailer for the very wonderful La fiancée du pirate:
- Jean-Claude Brialy and Jeanne Moreau in The Bride Wore Black (1968)
Jeanne Moreau (b. 1928) is slightly more problematic to categorise as a star of la nouvelle vague. She was, and still is, a major international star, who began in films nearly a decade before the New Wave was established. She also had an important stage career in the 1950s. She was also 30 by the time she appeared in Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Lift to the Scaffold, 1958), the Louis Malle film often argued to herald the New Wave to come. Nothing wrong with being 30, of course, but she wasn’t the ‘young star’ of the later films.
If we do want to include Jeanne Moreau in this collection, I would argue for three factors. First would be her work with Louis Malle, with Les amants (1959) and Viva Maria!(1965) plus a smaller part in Le feu follet (1963). (She also had (very) brief cameos in other New Wave films.)
As Catherine in Jules et Jim (1961), Jeanne Moreau became one of the iconic figures of the classic period of the French New Wave, although since this was a period film she was separated from Belmondo, Brialy and Léaud as ‘young French characters in contemporary Paris’. She would appear later as ‘the bride who wore black’ in Truffaut’s film of that name in 1968.
Her third claim to New Wave status is the extraordinary range of films that she made in the 1960s, both for French directors on the outer wings of the movement (e.g. Jacques Demy, for whom she starred in La baie des anges (1963)) and directors abroad influenced by the New Wave or already established as auteurs: La Notte (1961) for Antonioni, Eve (1962) for Jo Losey, Diary of a Chambermaid (1964) for Buñuel and two films for Tony Richardson (a Truffaut disciple?) in Mademoiselle (1966) and The Sailor From Gibraltar (1967).
Moreau was a different kind of star. I never thought of her as youthful or vivacious like Anna Karina (although she was in the early 1950s), but she was very sexy in a more cerebral way and had great depth as an actor. This clip from Ascenseur pour l’échafaud shows her image off to perfection. That’s Miles Davis on the soundtrack and the kind of nighttime location shooting in Paris that New Wave directors prized. Moreau could be in an American film noir, but she seems a much more complex character – older, wiser, more fragile and yet more dangerous – than any American femme fatale.
And finally, Jeanne Moreau as a platinum blonde in La baie des anges