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French 'femme fatale' actress Jeanne Moreau dies, aged 89

July 31, 2017

Jeanne Moreau, a major figure of the French New Wave, left her mark on cinema in France and around the world as a sensual performer in films like "Jules and Jim" and "The Lovers."

Jeanne Moreau
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/L. Tejido

French actress and femme fetale Jeanne Moreau passed away Monday in Paris at the age of 89, according to her agent. The smoky-voiced actress made well over 120 films in her decades-long career.

Her breakthrough came with the drama "Elevator to the Gallows," which was directed by Louis Malle in 1957. The duo became lovers and continued to fascinate both cinema-goers and the press as they went on to make the erotic drama "The Lovers" in 1959.

Moreau's best-known role was perhaps as Catherine in Francois Truffaut's love-triangle drama "Jules and Jim" (1962), which shot her to international fame. Roger Ebert, one of the most esteemed critics of her era, commented that Moreau was similar to the character.

Moreau herself once maintained that "acting deals with very delicate emotions. It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself."

Moreau was born on January 23, 1928 to a British dancer and a French restaurant owner. Her parents divorced when she was 11 and her mother returned to the UK with her sister. During the Nazi occupation of Paris in the 1940s, Moreau remained in the French capital with her father, who managed a restaurant in Montmartre.

She studied acting in Paris and performed in theater as a teenager before pursuing cinema.

A contemporary of French stars like Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, her career peak came in the 1960s when she collaborated with international filmmakers like Peter Brook ("Seven Days…Seven Nights," 1960), Michelangelo Antonioni ("La Notte," 1961), Luis Bunuel ("Diary of a Chambermaid," 1964), and Orson Welles ("The Trial," 1962 and "The Immortal Story," 1968).

Welles once called her "the greatest actress in the world."

She continued working in European film - with a few sidesteps to Hollywood - during the following decades. Moreau appeared, for example, in Luc Besson's action thriller "Nikita" in 1990, and Wim Wenders's "Until the End of the World" in 1991.

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Jeanne Moreau has been honored numerous times for her lifetime achievement - at the Venice Film Festival in 1991, the Berlinale in 2000 and the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. She also won the European Film Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. 

She presided over the Cannes jury twice and also won an honorary Oscar.

French President Emmanuel Macron honored her Monday for the broad range of her work, which extended from femme fatale role in early years to comedies and other genres later in life.

Moreau was dedicated to her work, once saying that she would continue acting as long as she lived.

kbm/sb (AFP, dpa, AP)