“You know me more than you think you do,” Catherine Deneuve insisted to an audience of avid admirers at BAM on Friday night, sidestepping the mystique of her on-screen persona and museum-ready profile. (Deneuve, dressed all in black, has the same impeccable, voluminous blow-dried blonde side part she sported in the mid-60s).
“In front of her, it is difficult to speak,” admitted François Ozon (in elaborately knotted scarf), director of Potiche, an advance screening of which the Q&A followed, but Deneuve was willing to pick up the slack, butting in with well-timed, bubbly one-liners about housewives, politics, the physical presence of her costar Gerard Depardieu, and her preference for walking over running (“we have only two legs”), and smilingly engaging with questioners who included the inevitable autobiographical ramblers and self-important French-as-second-language speakers. Ms. Deneuve seemed, overall, the person in the room who was least impressed with Catherine Deneuve.
It’s hard, one imagines, to promote one’s when the only question the audience can think to ask one’s costar is, were you intimidated working with Catherine Deneuve. Deneuve herself answered for Judith Godrèche, far less imperiously that she could have: “At the beginning—it doesn’t last long.” (She also discussed, with Ozon, her keen interest in and involvement with set and costume design as keys to the tone of a film and role, and bantered with her director about the close-ups necessary to cover a costar’s clumsy dancing in one scene.)
But she also described herself as “a moviegoer,” and confirmed, in response to one question, her affection for Judd Apatow movies: “I love those American comedies,” for their “exaggerated,” “exotic” rhythms. It’s wonderfully heartening to see an icon of the French New Wave still waxing rhapsodic about the elemental qualities of the commercial American cinema—especially when that response is paired with her reflections on making Belle du jour and Tristana. She still talks about Luis Buñuel in the present tense: “He has a great sense of humor, but he doesn’t communicate very well.” The golden age of culturally central art cinema is alive and well and embodied by someone who carries it with surprising, gratifying ease.