French Film Legend, Jeanne Moreau Dies at 89



French actress Jeanne Moreau, who lit up the screen in “Jules et Jim” and starred in some of the most critically-acclaimed films of the 20th century, has died aged 89, her agent said Monday.

The husky-voiced actress epitomised the freedoms of the 1960s and brought daring and tomboy charm to a string of cinematic masterpieces from Louis Malle’s “Lift to the Scaffold” to Joseph Losey’s “Eva”.

Moreau, who was still making films at 87, was found dead at her home in Paris early Monday, the district’s mayor told AFP.

Once described by US director Orson Welles as “the best actress in the world”, she was also a feminist icon, a trailblazer for liberated women at a time when cinema was slowly waking up to women’s issues.

Leading tributes to the plain-speaking actress, French President Emmanuel Macron said Moreau had “embodied cinema” and she was a free spirit who “always rebelled against the established order”. She was that sparky rebel spirit that also had some of the world’s greatest directors beating a path to her door, including Welles for his “Chimes at Midnight”, Michelangelo Antonioni for “La Notte” and Luis Bunuel for his 1964 film “Diary of a Chambermaid”.

Born in Paris 1928 to an English-born chorus girl and a French restaurant owner, she took to acting with apparently effortless ease, defying her father’s wishes by joining the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 18, and gaining entry to the elite Comedie Francaise theatre troupe two years later. 

Ageing gracefully, she confined herself mainly to secondary roles as in Losey’s classic “Mr Klein” or Elia Kazan’s “The Last Tycoon” and then, taking in a brief marriage to the American director William Friedkin, tried her own hand at directing with “Lumiere” and “L’Adolescente”.

She was also a competent singer, as evidenced in her rendition of “Le Tourbillon de la Vie”, the catchy refrain from “Jules et Jim”.