Cannes 2007: Catherine Deneuve Talks to Cole Smithey In Cannes About "Persepolis"
By Cole Smithey
Born in Paris on October 22, 1943, Catherine Deneuve is one of cinema’s most iconic leading ladies. Her unforgettable performances in films like Jaques Demy's "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," Roman Polanski's "Repulsion," Luis Bunuel's "Belle de Jour" and in Francois Truffaut's "The Last Metro," place her in a rarified area of cinema history that informs so much of what we see in modern films.
Never an actress to stop testing the boundaries of subjects and filmic styles, Deneuve took up the role of an Iranian mother in Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s animated film adaptation of Satrapi’s graphic novel "Persepolis," which won the Jury Prize at Cannes just after this interview was completed. Executed with a striking style of bold animation, the coming-of-age story takes place during the Islamic Revolution in Iran and follows the bumpy trajectory of an outspoken nine-year-old girl who is sent to school in Austria before returning to Iran, only to realize that she cannot tolerate the conditions there.
Catherine Deneuve had just finished filming her 100th movie when she sat down to be interviewed in the Carlton Hotel’s noisy beachside restaurant for lunch during this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Over many skinny cigarettes that she smoked with seamless regularity and a glass of white wine, the ever lovely and poised screen legend spoke quickly and energetically about her work.
CS: You’ve had such a long and illustrious career. What performance do you look back on most favorably?
CD: "Tristana" from Bunuel. I feel it was my most complete performance.
Bunuel had a great sense of humor. He had a vision. He was very emotional and had a very Spanish sensibility, which means that he loved women very much and that he was a little afraid of them.
We got along very well because I’m not an actress who needs a lot of explanation. I knew that about him because I had done "Belle du Jour" with him before.
CS: What do find most challenging in making films?
CD: The fact that you try to be really involved—that’s very challenging. So even if you want to do it, even if you like a part, even if you like a film, you’re never sure how it’s going to come out because you depend on so many things. That’s why some actors love to do theater because they’re really in charge of what they are doing.
I remember when I did Francois Ozon's "8 Women," the shooting was interesting, but sometimes it was hard because we had to do so many takes and there was so much detail. But when I saw the film, I thought it was wonderful.
CS: Do you have any regrets from your life in cinema?
CD: I cannot regret. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Even if I look back, it’s difficult to judge because even though there were some things I did that were not as important, it was a step to something else that was important to me. You’re made of a lot of things, you know—successes, disasters—there’s no one thing.
CS: Do you read reviews of your films?
CD: Not that much. Sometimes I don’t even read them at all. I don’t read Le Monde. Once it’s done, it’s done. I’m very fatalist.
CS: Are there more roles in France for actresses of your age now than there are in America?
CD: Of that I am sure because I can see and read how difficult it is after 35 for women to have interesting parts in films. There are a few exceptions of course, but there are a lot of actresses who are not working.
CS: What made you want to participate in such an unusual kind of movie as "Persepolis"?
CD: I did it because I thought it would be very difficult to connect with a subject like that. The script was very original and I decided that I had to do it.
CS: Did you enjoy being the voice of an animated character?
CD: It’s fun and I like it. I’d love to a voice in one of those big animated American films. I love them.
CS: What do you think audience reactions will be to "Persepolis"?
CD: Well, I think they won’t believe what they see, because the film is very political and at the same time it is very moving. It is a very strong statement, very sophisticated.
CS: I understand there was some outrage in Iran about "Persepolis" showing in competition in Cannes?
CD: They were quite upset. They wrote to the French Embassy to complain about choosing this film in the competition. If I was them, I would be upset too. The film is there to start a discussion.
CS: What kind of directors are you interested in working with?
CD: I’m interested in working with a director that has a very personal point of view on the film they want to do. I like people who carry their own land, you know. I like when there is something that follows in their films—a style.
CS: Have you ever visited the Middle East?
CD: I was in Lebanon last week shooting a film. It was my first time visiting the Middle East, and it was quite a strong experience. I was in the south where there has been a lot of damage. It was very hard, very moving.
CS: What do you think about the way the Internet is making a way for filmmakers to have an immediate audience for their creations?
CD: I’m very careful. It’s really open to everything and anything. It’s too wide and too wild because anyone can take anything and distort it.
CS: The climate of film has changed radically since the ‘60s when your career took off.
CD: It’s very different. It’s very difficult to be private and to say things that you want to say because you want them to be used the right way. Anything can be distorted and put on the Internet.
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