A tribute to France’s greatest New Wave actress.
The opening shot of Louis Malle’s feature debut, Elevator to the Gallows, is an extreme close-up of a woman on the phone. She’s wearing barely any makeup and her eyes are filled with tears, but she exudes an unconventionally stunning beauty. And as she plaintively tells the man on the other end of the line that she loves him, we fall in love with her.
By the time Elevator to the Gallows was released in 1958, its star, Jeanne Moreau, had already made about twenty films. It wasn’t until she appeared in Malle’s film, however, that the world took notice, particularly in the film’s most memorable sequence where she wanders through the Paris streets to an evocative Miles Davis score. “Malle turned [Moreau] loose in the nocturnal city,” writes film critic Terrence Rafferty, “and did justice, for the first time, to that amazing, imperious, gravelly sexy walk of hers – which would…come to seem the defining movement of the New Wave.”
Focus on Jeanne Moreau centres on an intense decade of Moreau’s career when she, along with some of cinema’s most acclaimed directors, spearheaded the Nouvelle Vague. Screening alongside Elevator to the Gallows are films by Jacques Demy, Roger Vadim, Luis Buñuel, Michelangelo Antonioni and François Truffaut (including the iconic Jules et Jim), as well as Malle’s second film, The Lovers.
If Elevator to the Gallows compelled audiences to notice Moreau, it was The Lovers, through its unapologetic depiction of a woman’s sexuality, which cemented her star status. As film academic Ginette Vincendeau says, “Moreau brought to the cinema a new type of glamour, less overtly sexy than Bardot, more cerebral…With Moreau, the ‘new woman’ of the New Wave had arrived.”
Focus on Jeanne Moreau screens from Thu 14 Feb to Tue 26 Feb.