The grande dame of French cinema comes to Hawai‘i.
Good fortune—and the ability to pique the curiosity of established filmmakers, photographers and designers—made Catherine Deneuve an inpiration to audiences across the globe, myself included. It was my own bonne chance, as a French major who lived in France and devoted fan de Deneuve, to sit down with the actress inside her Moana Surfrider suite.
We chatted in her oceanfront penthouse around sundown. Sitting across from Deneuve, she appears even more radiant in person. Vases and gift baskets brimming with pink roses, pastel balloons, multicolored lei and Champagne are affixed about the room in honor of Deneuve’s award and first visit to the islands.
She’s been called an ice maiden, the most beautiful woman in the world, Yves Saint Laurent’s muse, but la reine du cinéma français’ curiosity carries Deneuve and her graceful career evolution above classification.
“I’ve been very lucky to meet and work with people I find interesting, who want to write their own stories: young directors, women directors …” she reminisces. “I suppose it’s my curiosity that brought me luck more than anything.”
Amidst her accolades and more than 120 films (and counting), Deneuve is refreshing, poised: witty in dialogue and a woman who is grateful for advantageous professional opportunities, both on and off the silver screen.
How fitting that an award-winning actress would come to a comparably iconic destination to accept The Christina Hassell Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2015 Hawai‘i European Cinema Film Festival Awards Gala, where the femme des films was hailed the guest of honor. Post red-carpet arrival, Deneuve struck attendees as stunningly sophisticated, much obliged by her award and the kindness of festival affiliates. The French starlet extended a heartfelt thank you to those present. And when Oct. 23, 2015 (the date of the gala) was officially declared “Catherine Deneuve Day in Hawai‘i,” Madame Deneuve modestly replied, “That’s too much.”
She further explains her comment, in smiling good humor.
“It was too much when they said it was going to be my day. I thought it was. But as it was my birthday [on Oct. 22], I thought, ‘Well, it was a special birthday.’”
Deneuve continues, recounting her swift arrival to the islands and the awards gala: “People congratulating each other, congratulating me, giving me a beautiful Lifetime Achievement Award—which I think is a terrible award: life achievement,” she admits, lightheartedly. “I think a life achievement is something that sounds so…”
“Final?” I question, following her body language.
“Yes, final,” Deneuve agrees, suggesting it is not la fin of her film career.
In fact, the actress has three French picture projects next year: One of which, she shares, is a comedy in the spring.
In Deneuve’s astounding filmography, she has mesmerized generations of moviegoers in numerous personas—as evidenced
in Hawai‘i European Cinema’s opening and closing films: Repulsion (1965), which released when she was 22, and Standing Tall (2015), a 2015 Cannes Film Festival debut, at 71.
Deneuve and her passion have certainly kindled intrigue within motion picture audiences around the world. Born in 1943 into a Parisian family of actors, Deneuve has two sisters: Françoise Dorléac—who tragically died in a car accident the year The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), which the sisters co-starred in together, released—and Sylvie Dorélac—with whom she acted in her film debut, The Twilight Girls (1957), at 13—who encouraged her to act. Now with 50-plus-year run in international cinema, there is much to celebrate and admire about Deneuve’s distinction thus far.
Deneuve has fearlessly embraced intense, diverse roles, maturing over time alongside talented directors. She’s merited César awards (France’s equivalent of the Oscars), and was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Régis Wargnier’s Indochine (1992), set at the rise of the Vietnamese nationalist movement in colonial-era Vietnam. I question if there’s anyone she would still like to work with.
“Thierry Klifa,” she replies without delay, “who I already filmed with. I’m going to do another film with him next year.”
Of work past and present, Deneuve beams when questioned about a celebration of European cinema in the Pacific.
“Because, here, [the film industry is] so American. ? is is America, and it’s American-dominated.
It’s a question of finding room for European cinema. It’s a very different cinema. I’m sure there is room for more foreign films,” she adds: “I hope there will be more European ~ lms coming here.”
Embodying joie de vivre as a woman of, as she says, many curiosities—she also hopes to relish in the warmth and beauty of the islands.
“It is my first time here, but I’m sure I will come back for holidays. [People in Hawai‘i] seem to be so full of joy. I think when you live on an island, where there is this sea, and the weather is so beautiful, it has a lot to do with your character, at least with your temperament,” she observes.
“Le soleil (the sun), l’eau (the water), it’s good for the …”
“La santé (the health)?” I question.
“Yes, you could say good for the health.”
Deneuve, who celebrated her “longest birthday” when she turned 72, on Oct. 22, in transit from France to Hawai‘i, appears also in good spirits and health from her bienvenue. Hawaiian hospitality aside, Deneuve looks forward to celebrating a belated 72nd back in France among friends and family— whom I insist must be very proud of her.
“I don’t think they are proud. We are happy,” she expresses. “We get together, and I’m just a part of the family. I’m nothing special. I’m nothing like that.”
And with two children—Christian Vadim, a stage actor, and Chiara Mastroianni, with whom Deneuve adds she’s “done two films”—talent remains in the Deneuve genes … although, she acknowledges concerns about her children entering the business.
“Fear,” she identifies her emotion. “I think it is so difficult today to do films, and to be an actor or an actress today. The business moves very quickly, and careers are much shorter. You are put to the peak right away, and fade away very quickly, too. It’s strange, quite strange. People want to get famous before they have done anything.”
As a starlet regarded for evading any career-wrenching scandals, out of respect for her personal life, Deneuve is not privy to the fantasy of social media.
“Yes, it’s becoming so strange,” she observes. “Sometimes, you see young people, and they haven’t done anything: they are just ‘famous.’ They are famous from the pictures. And they [share] their opinion about everything, and there they are. It’s quite strange to get famous like that, but it’s a fact.”
In world dominated by uncensored Internet, I wondered what the star would say to modern actresses aspiring to have a lengthy IMDb profile like hers.
“You cannot decide if you have a long career or not. You cannot decide that. It’s one of those few realms, where it’s not how talented you are,” she remarks. “It’s not like the rest of the population: If you are talented and good at what you do, you can go on doing that for a very long time, but not acting, not artistic works, no. I don’t consider actors as artists, but they have an artistic function, and, it’s not enough to just be good. It’s a profession where you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
And Hawai‘i hasn’t said its final aloha to Madame Deneuve or European films.
“People seem to thank me so much for coming here. I was very fortunate about that, because I think European film really deserves to been seen … I was very touched, even this afternoon,” she shares of her audience Q&A for the festival’s film finale, Standing Tall. “People were really nice, sharing how grateful they were for someone like me to spend time. It’s like in Polynesia. You have the warmness of the sun and the sea. There is something very natural about that.”
As there were no signs of Deneuve planning to slow down during her trip to Hawai‘i either, she will enjoy every curious moment.
As for rest: “Rest, I will do on the plane.”