PARIS - French actress Jeanne Moreau, a smoky-voiced femme fatale who starred in Francois Truffaut’s love triangle film “Jules and Jim” and whose award-winning, decades-long career included working with some of the world’s most acclaimed directors, has died at 89.
Outspoken, provocative and acting well into her 80s, Moreau was among France’s most-recognized performers. Tributes poured in Monday for a woman described by the French president as epitomizing her art like few others.
President Emmanuel Macron celebrated Moreau for going beyond earlier roles as a screen siren to embrace other genres, starring in comedies and action films.
“That was her freedom … always rebellious against the established order,” Macron said in a statement. “(She had) a spark in her eye that defied reverence and was an invitation to insolence, to liberty, to this whirlpool of life that she loved so much. And that she made us love.”
The president’s office and Moreau’s agent announced her death Monday without providing a cause.
Once one of the world’s most popular actresses, Moreau was among the brooding symbols of the French New Wave. In an eight-year period, from 1959 to 1967, her directors included Orson Welles, Luis Bunuel, Louis Malle and Truffaut.
Her performance as Catherine in Truffaut’s 1962 “Jules and Jim” was among her most well-known, as two friends vied for her love.
She was born in Paris on Jan. 23, 1928, to a French father and English mother who danced at the Folies-Bergere. Moreau starred in her first feature film in 1949 and starred in her last film in 2015, a French comedy called “My Friends’ Talent.”
Her breakthrough film was Malle’s “Les Amants,” or “The Lovers,” a modern version of “Madame Bovary” about a bored wife who drives off with a virtual stranger — including a scene so erotic for the time that the French government nearly banned the film.
Among her other notable films were Truffaut’s 1968 “The Bride Wore Black” and Bunuel’s 1965 “Diary of a Chambermaid.” She also performed in films by Peter Brooks, Wim Wenders and other international directors, made a brief appearance in the international hit “La Femme Nikita” and provided narration for the “The Lover.”
Thanks to her striking looks and impulsive characters, some called her the French Bette Davis. Moreau often played women of experience, and off screen she had so many lovers she once boasted to a reporter she wanted to build a house and fill it with her favorite men.
Moreau’s appeal was so intense that she won this unusual praise in 1995 from Vanessa Redgrave, whose husband once had an affair with Moreau.
“Any man who didn’t love Jeanne Moreau would have to be blind and deaf. … I, of the same feminine gender, have the same admiration and awe and respect,” Redgrave said.
Throughout her career, Moreau starred in more than 100 films, recorded albums, won an honorary Oscar in 1998 for lifetime achievement and French cinema and theater awards, and presided over the jury at the Cannes Film Festival twice. After a lull in the 1970s and 1980s, her career picked up again later in life.
She had a son, Jerome, in 1949 from her first marriage to Jean-Louis Richard. In a 2012 interview, she told Madame Figaro: “I had a child. I didn’t want it. I know that shocks many women, but I’m not maternal.” That frankness made Moreau seem more real to many viewers.
She had a brief marriage in the 1970s to William Friedkin, the Oscar-winning director of film classics “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist.” She also had a high-profile, five-year relationship with designer Pierre Cardin, described by both as a “true love” although they never married.
She described aging in a 1994 interview with The Associated Press, recalling a moment in her late 30s when she discovered her first wrinkle.
“For about a week, suddenly, I have the real feeling of decay. That’s what life is about,” she said. But after a while, she said, “The inner voice said, ‘Well, and so what? So you think you’re exceptional? Like anybody, you’re going to die. So what is important? Is it the path you have to follow or a bloody wrinkle?’ Well, OK, the voice is right: Let’s go on.”
She decried people who cling to the past, saying, “Luckily, my nature is … to go forward, to take risks. That means sometimes I am scared stiff.”
Her family will hold a private funeral ceremony in Paris in the coming days, according to Moreau’s agent, while a public memorial ceremony will be held in September with leading French cultural figures.