Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Birthday Tribute to Francoise Dorleac


71 years ago today, on the first day of spring, March 21, 1942, Francoise Dorleac was born in war-ravaged Paris; she would live just 25 years more.

Catherine (top) and Francoise
Her father was Maurice Dorleac, a stage and screen actor, and her mother, Renee Deneuve, was an actress who re-voiced Hollywood films in French (including Judy Garland’s in The Wizard of Oz). Both Maurice and Renee were prominent performers at the Comedie Francaise. Francoise's younger sister, Catherine Deneuve, was born in October 1943. With their parents in the theater, acting did not seem an unusual profession to the girls. Many years later Catherine would recall, “For us, it was a job like any other.” She and Francoise grew up sharing a bedroom and a bunk bed, and each would go into “the family business” at an early age. 

Francoise first performed on the stage at age 10 and made her screen debut at 15 in the short Mesonges (1957). Later, supporting herself as a model for the house of Dior, she would study acting at the Conservatoire d'Art Dramatique. As an in-demand model and actress, Francoise led a wildly busy life from her teens to the end of her life. She appeared on stage (among her roles was "Gigi"), on TV, on magazine covers and in spreads (including Vogue), and on film. Over the seven years from 1960 – 1967 she was featured in 16 films, most notably:

Philippe de Broca's New York Film Critics award-winning and Oscar-nominated That Man from Rio (1964), co-starring Jean-Paul Belmondo

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Francoise Dorleac, That Man from Rio

Francois Truffaut's once maligned, now acclaimed The Soft Skin (1964)



Roman Polanski's award-winning Cul-de-sac (1966)




Jacques Demy's Oscar-nominated The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), co-starring her sister Catherine

Francoise Dorleac and Catherine Deneuve, The Young Girls of Rochefort
Her final film was Ken Russell's underrated Billion Dollar Brain (1967), co-starring Michael Caine in his third outing as Harry Palmer


In Europe, Francoise would be likened to Garbo and Dietrich. In the U.S.,  Look magazine would feature a June 1965 spread on "The Sister Stars of France," spotlighting 'sweet' Catherine and 'soignee' Francoise.

During the filming of The Young Girls of Rochefort in 1966, a reporter from L'Express sat down with Dorleac and Deneuve for an interview. Their affection for each other along with a playful competitiveness came through as the two, then 24 and 23, discussed their lives and careers.

Francoise and Catherine
Francoise remarked on her desire to be less nervous before the camera, to stop "hiding behind" her hair;  Catherine talked about feeling the need to be less stiff on camera. Francoise, who had so seriously pursued an acting career, seemed intent on becoming a great star. Catherine, who had not initially taken acting that seriously, seemed determined to become a better actress. The sisters seemed equally amused that while they were both extremely busy and making very good money, they were both also "broke."

The two discussed their family resemblance and physical differences, with Catherine noting Francoise's gamine delicacy and Francoise commenting on her sister's "very sweet face." 

At the time, Catherine, who had already given birth to director Roger Vadim's son, was married to photographer David Bailey. Francoise's long engagement to actor/dancer Jean-Pierre Cassel (who would later recall his deep love and "terrible, destructive passion" for her) had finally come to an end. She and Truffaut had briefly been an item a few years earlier and she would be involved with high profile photographer's agent Albert Koski at the time of her death.

Francoise Dorleac and Jean-Pierre Cassel, Twenty magazine, 1964

As the interview wound down, the subject of youth and age came up.  Francoise admitted that, at just 24, she didn't like to think about aging or mortality. She added, "I fear the end, I'm afraid of death."  She would be lost the following summer, the victim of a fiery car crash near Nice in June 1967.  Decades later a reporter would ask Catherine Deneuve what the low point of her life so far had been. She would pause and softly speak of the death of Francoise. She remembered her sister as a fine actress, a beautiful woman and "my closest friend." 
Catherine and Francoise
Francoise did not have enough time to achieve her dreams, but in the handful of films she completed during her lifetime lies tangible proof of her talent and her potential. Catherine did, as she hoped, become a better actress - and she became more than a star, she became a legend.

Francoise Dorleac

24 comments:

  1. Lady E,
    A very nice birthday tribute to Francoise.

    I admit that I'm not all that familiar with French cinema but I did enjoy the info you've provided here and especially her lineage. She comes from a very gifted family.

    Nicely done!
    Page

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Page. Of Francoise's films I've seen only "The Young Girls of Rochefort" and "Cul-de-sac" in their entirety. I've ordered "The Soft Skin" and may write about it. It was booed when screened at Cannes in 1964 but has since - as so often happens - been reevaluated and is much admired by many today. I also plan to get my hands on "That Man from Rio" and "Billion Dollar Brain." Francoise also appeared in "Genghis Khan" (1965) with Omar Sharif and James Mason, and "Where the Spies Are" (1965), a spy spoof with David Niven.

      Delete
  2. Lady Eve - thank you for your very sensitive tribute to Francoise Dorleac - who Catherine considered the more beautiful of the two. It was so sad to lose her at such an early age. Those days were especially prone to having French drivers pretending to be at Le Mans while driving on narrow tree-lined country roads - with many tragedies. But now she lives on in her films.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Christian, I did the best research I could without speaking French, so I appreciate very much that you enjoyed this piece. No one was more beautiful than Catherine Deneuve at her peak, but I believe had Francoise lived the two would've gone on being equally celebrated for both looks and talent. In her final film, Francoise was ultra-blonde and the color seemed to suit her as much as it does Catherine.

      Delete
  3. I have always wanted to see the film, The Young Girls of Rochefort. Thank you for your wonderful tribute to Francoise Dorleac. I will look for her films..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dawn, Jacques Demy made "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" with Catherine in 1964 and followed it with "The Young Girls of Rochefort" a few years later. "Rochefort" is a colorful and stylish treat - enhanced by the presence of Gene Kelly and Danielle Darrieux (who plays the mother of Francoise and Catherine). I hope you're able to see it soon.

      Delete
  4. Wonderful tribute to Francoise. She and Catherine were so close that her death still haunts Deneuve today. For her, Francoise was the much gifted actress; yet, she is the one who is most regarded today. I expect she continued acting as a tribute to her sister, since she has so many other talents (most notably her painting). Again, I loved reading this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Kim, I know you are a great fan of Catherine Deneuve. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for her to go on after the loss of her sister. From what I've read, it seems she had become very committed to acting during the time not long before Francoise's death. Perhaps continuing as an actress helped her to go on and, as you say, made her feel she was doing something on behalf of her sister. It's as though Francoise's dreams were fulfilled by Catherine. Exquisitely.

      Delete
  5. A very interesting read, Eve. I definitely would like to familiarize myself with Francoise's work - I've read about her but have only seen small fragments of her performances, as with the clips you included. Of course, she, like her sister, is very beautiful, but she has quite a distinctive and seductive voice, too. A strong vocal identity in an actor is very important and is something that sets them apart and leaves an impression. The french films of that era have such glamor - even without subtitles they're fun to watch. One can only imagine if both sisters had survived and had appeared in films together as they evolved through different periods of their lives, what shared characteristics and what differences would have emerged. Not to be too morbid, but death can appear at any time, it may be long off or just around the corner - a sense of mortality helps one appreciate art, as it does life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MCB, As I wrote this and then replied to comments, I avoided getting into "what might have been" for Francoise - on her own or in relation to her sister. Too much to imagine - she died so young and seemed to have so much ahead of her. I suspect she and Catherine would always have been "The Sister Stars of France." Both are very beautiful but are quite different - and very captivating - presences onscreen. How interesting it would have been to watch the two evolve over time.

      Delete
  6. I have seen Dorleac in only two films (Cul-de-Sac and The Soft Skin) but I think she was just as talented as her sister. She died in a horrible way, very sad to say the least. I actually have a copy of BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN buried somewhere but have never watched it, though I am admittedly a fan of Ken Russell's visual style, and I have always wanted to see THAT MAN FROM RIO, but it's hard to find. Anyway, a very, very nice tribute to Ms. Dorleac.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John, I haven't seen enough of "Billion Dollar Brain" to get a good sense of it - I know it wasn't as popular as "The Ipcress File" (not sure how "Funeral in Berlin" fared), but it is a Ken Russell film and the score is extraordinary - Plus Michael Caine, Francoise, Karl Malden and Oscar Homolka. If you find it and watch it, let me know what you think.

      Delete
  7. Beautiful tribute, Lady Eve. I confess I find her the more intriguing of the sisters. So said that she left us so soon, but somewhat fitting for her mysterious legacy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. FC, Catherine began using her mother's name in 1960 in order not to be confused with Francoise who was better known at the time. But then Catherine made three films that were immediate sensations - "Repulsion," "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "Belle de Jour". Though Francoise, in her brief time, worked for first-rate directors on some high caliber films, most weren't instant classics. I am sure, had she lived, Francoise's career would have continued to soar. She might have even conquered Hollywood. Instead she is an enigma, the beautiful and talented but doomed 'older sister.'

      Delete
  8. I know little and less than that about Francois Dorleac. Enlightening post and a great tribute. Kudos!

    Aurora

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Aurora. I just bought "The Soft Skin" and, through EBay, the LOOK magazine of June 1965 with the the layout on "The Sister Stars of France." That means there will be at least one more entry on Francoise Dorleac here.

      Delete
  9. I was completely unfamiliar with Francoise Dorleac. So sad that she died at such a young age.

    This was a thoughtful post. Thanks for letting us know more about a talented woman.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ruth, I'm very happy to introduce you to Francoise Dorleac. I hope you have a chance to see a few of her films one day. I'm on a mission to find/watch as many as are available (in English or with subtitles).

      Delete
  10. So happy to see something about this mysterious French star whose luster was lost too soon. Thanks for sharing this about her, Lady Eve...it was a sensitive and thoughtfully written tribute. Tres bien, ma belle!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you, Kay. There will be more to come at this blog on the films of Francoise Dorleac.

    ReplyDelete
  12. At last, a clever piece of writing on Françoise. Indeed she was somehow much more "classier" and "desirable" than her sister. Yet, why is it so hard to describe her acting style? (but was she really acting in her films?) L'Homme de Rio was her best performance. The real Françoise -I presume- is incarnated in Agnès Villermosa´s role. A beautiful enigma. Hope to read more about her soon...
    Merci beaoucup, Lady E.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous, There will be another post on Francoise in the near future, once I've watched a few more of her films and done a bit more research. If she were simply beautiful, that would be one thing. But she had more - that special spark - talent + onscreen presence - the rarest of gifts. I'm happy you enjoyed this brief tribute...de rien...

      Delete
  13. É triste pensar que a maioria só a conhece como a 'irmã mais velha de catherine deneuve'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it is sad, but I believe her short life must have been an unusually stimulating one filled with accomplishment, adventure and love. Beyond that, we can never know what might have been for Francoise...

      Delete