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 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: