Written in August, 2006
Dear Mlle. Deneuve,
I write to you in English, since I know your English is excellent, rather than annoy you with my bad French, which I learned in school and practice only on infrequent trips to Paris. I have written only a very few fan letters in my life, but for the past few weeks I keep feeling the impulse to write to you. In fact, you are now in company which you may find amusing: over the years I’ve written to the silent movie actress Lillian Gish, Federico Fellini, Gene Kelly and the Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov, all of whom wrote me back. You are in interesting company!
My admiration of you as an actress stretches back to Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Repulsion. In fact, I’ve seen every single one of your movies available in the United States. I particularly love Umbrellas and Repulsion, but also Last Metro, Indochine, Les Voleurs, Place Vendôme and Mississippi Mermaid -- and, of course, Belle de Jour and Tristana. At present, I’m waiting for Changing Times to arrive at a local theatre; I’m also a big fan of Depardieu, so I’m quite excited about the film.
It must be very strange to receive what amounts to love letters from fans, and I don’t quite know how to start. I love movies, and I have for most of my fifty-two years. I love silent movies, French and Italian movies, musicals, film noir and tear-jerker melodramas. I recently viewed Au plus près du paradis, which I found particularly satisfying among your movies; I liked seeing you play someone who inserted herself emotionally into An Affair to Remember. Since you are you, la Deneuve, a legend, it made the film even more interesting and ironic for me.
Probably one of the reasons I love the movies is because, as a woman, I always try to recognize myself among the characters. There are a few actors and actresses who seem to have an extraordinary effect on me, always, in all their films, and you’re one of them. I find all your performances profoundly arresting, and I feel some kind of crazy, instant connection with you, the actress, the woman, rather than so much a connection with the characters you portray. It’s a kind of resonance.
I love the way you are a movie star. There’s really no one else like you. I love the way you cherish your privacy and aren’t always giving interviews or parading your private life to the media like the younger generation of American actors do. I must admit, as a mature woman, I constantly look to your style to give me clues about how an elegant woman should dress; you are most definitely a style icon off-camera. I cannot imagine the burden it must be to be the cinematic equivalent of Helen of Troy. But, as you grow older, I have to tell you I only grow to love your face more and more. To me, it is the most beautiful face in the movies. Yours is the face of a ravishing woman who has loved and been loved well, who is deep and knowing and who is completely comfortable with herself.
I hope your career will sometimes afford you more opportunities for comic roles. I have a suspicion you would do them very well, and I love the glimpses we sometimes get in some of your films of the woman with the brilliant smile and laughing eyes. If a time machine existed, I would love to see you go back in time and work with Alfred Hitchcock. You would have been the ultimately Hitchcock heroine; I can easily imagine you in the Grace Kelly role in Rear Window, or the Kim Novak role in Vertigo. You would have been perfect, had you been born earlier!
It must also be strange for you to see your identity abstracted as often happens when theorists write of you in the context of “the male gaze, “ “the cinematic gaze,” and so on. I’m a college professor, so I notice these references to you and your image. It’s as if you’re a living anima projection for many, and it gives you a kind of mythical quality. I wonder what you think of Anne Carson’s “Irony is not Enough: Essay on my Life as Catherine Deneuve.” I understand it’s the basis of a work of choreography now, as well.
Late this spring I took my daughter, who had just graduated from university with a degree in art, for her first trip to Paris. One of the things we did during our week there was to go on a very early morning tour of all the passages in Paris -- from the galleries at Palais Royale to Véro-Dodat, and all the others that still remain. There’s a movie memorabilia shop in one of the passages ; I forget which one. There I purchased a photo card of Françoise D’Orléac behind a movie camera -- she was so, so good (and so beautiful!) in La peau douce. When we got home, I found some photographs of you on the Internet in one of those passages, and that was a discovery that pleased me very much.
This letter has gone on too long, so I will close now by saying that you are even part of the French language for me. When I first studied French at the age of thirteen or fourteen and was learning to conjugate my verbs, I could never remember devenir. I solved that problem with this little word association which I’d recite to myself: “Devenir: to become Catherine Deneuve.”
You will always be my favorite movie actress, and a permanent resident of the Paris of my imagination, where I like to go, sometimes, to escape the “real” world. I hope you will make many more films, and that they’ll be projects ideally suited to your personality, intellect, wit, interests and the mythology which has sprung up around your image. As you know, you have a legion of adoring, devoted fans who wait for each of your new projects -- like Nip and Tuck this year! I was lucky to see your interview a few years ago with Charlie Rose; I wish someday you’d appear on James Lipton’s The Actor’s Studio. Thank you for the insights and enjoyment you’ve given captivated audiences all these decades and for your intelligent, thoughtful, subtle and nuanced performances in an astounding variety of roles. You are a wonderful and under-rated actress -- under-rated, perhaps, because of your great and timeless beauty.
In your personal life, I wish you much love and happiness with your children, grandchildren and friends and with your garden. You have my deepest admiration as a woman and as an actress. And you’ll always be MY Marianne, because when I think of France, I’ll forever see you in my mind’s eye.