There’s something wonderfully fatalistic in the oeuvre of Catherine Deneuve. Even in the more optimistic of her film work—The Umbrella’s of Cherbourg (1964) for example—there is always the threat of ruin, that her steely resolve will somehow dissolve, fade away as the final credits roll. It’s that filmic resolve that sometimes gets labeled as “emotionally distant”, which is wholly unfair and misses the point of her amazing abilities as an actress. On the contrary, she has an extraordinary range, both when playing a character and in her choice of roles. From the emotionally fragile woman slowly coming undone in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), to an actress and theatre director in Nazi occupied France in François Truffaut’s The Last Metro (1980), to an aging vampire, of all things, in Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), Denevue is describing emotional wreckage that is more subtle, less overtly traumatic.
And then there is her work with director Luis Buñuel: Belle de Jour (1967) and Tristana (1970), a pair of films that, quite succinctly, encapsulate that range previously spoke of. The bored housewife of Belle Je Jour is certainly the most famous, but it is her turn as the optimistic orphan girl turned calculating woman in Tristana that is the weightier, the more deeply resonate of the two.
It is the elegance, and, OK, here comes that word, timelessness, of Catherine Deneuve that leads me to compare her with other actresses like Grace Kelly and Isabella Rossellini; that indefinable charm that far exceeds pure beauty, that makes her films endlessly watchable.