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The epitome of cool at her finest in Truffaut’s life-affirming Le dernier metro
on 28 February 2016
I first made the acquaintance (on screen, of course!) of the young and incredibly beautiful Catherine Deneuve in 1963: Le Vice et La Vertu (or Vice and Virtue as it was known in Britain) was my first X film (I was a few months under-age, as I recall) and it was directed by Roger Vadim, whose principal claim to fame seems to have been not so much his directorial talents as his extraordinary list of live-in lovers or wives – Brigitte Bardot (1952-7), Annette Stroyberg (1958-60), Deneuve (live-in lover), Jane Fonda (1965-73), Catherine Schneider (1975-7), Ann Biderman (live-in lover) and Marie-Christine Barrault (1990-2000): four of his ex-wives Bardot, Stroyberg, Fonda, Schneider) attended his funeral in St Tropez in 2000.
The then 19 or 20-year-old Deneuve was ‘Virtue’ and had yet to hit the big time (the all-sung Les Parapluies de Cherbourg the following year was the film that first saw Deneuve in the limelight) and Vice and Virtue, for her director- lover, was her first major role. She still caught the eye in every which way. As I recall, the film is hardly a masterpiece of the big screen and includes some gratuitous voyeurism in a German prison camp during the Nazi occupation of Paris but, for all that, if I could source a DVD or blu-ray with English subtitles I’d like to be able to make a modern judgment.
In any event, Deneuve’s film career now spans well over half a century (she actually made her screen debut in 1957) and she has more than 120 film credits to her name, including Buñuel's masterpiece Belle de Jour (1967) and the epic drama Indochine (1992). Truffaut’s Le dernier metro (The Last Metro) dates from 1980 and won her the first of two César Awards for Best Actress (Indochine was the other). Deneuve is back in Nazi-occupied Paris, but in a very different, worthier role than in that early Vice and Virtue: there is no gratuitous voyeurism in this treatment. Deneuve's role as Séverine in Belle de Jour is both striking and memorable, but here she shows understated nuance and subtlety which helps make this layered love-story one of Truffaut’s most inspired achievements.
Marion (Deneuve) and her Jewish husband and theatre owner Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) have let it be known that he has fled Paris. In reality Steiner is holed up in hiding in the Theatre Montmartre’s cellars. Meanwhile radical actor and womaniser Bernard Granger (Gérard Depardieu) is engaged by Marion to play the lead opposite her in the company’s latest play. As the German oppression intensifies, Marion’s feelings for her husband and her co-star undergo a transformation.
This is a beautiful, cleverly-paced story with stunning performances from these three principals – and a life-affirming twist. Deneuve is the epitome of cool and this is one of her finest films. The blu-ray includes a worthwhile commentary with Depardieu.