In the Footsteps of Catherine Deneuve

In the Footsteps of Catherine Deneuve

Catherine Deneuve – perhaps France’s most famous actress – celebrated her 80th birthday in October. Take a look back on her best adventures, and replicate them yourself!

Regarded at her peak as the most glamorous actress in France, Catherine Deneuve has starred in well over 100 films and has been the face of countless quintessentially French beauty and fashion brands, from Louis Vuitton and L’Oréal to Chanel No. 5. At one point she even launched her own perfume. Born to actor parents in Paris back in October 1943, there was no question that Deneuve would excel in the film industry – but few could have guessed quite how celebrated this one-time muse of Yves Saint Laurent would become. Although she appeared in her first movie at the tender age of 12, it wasn’t until Jacques Demy’s 1964 musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg that she became a household name.

Catherine Deneuve at the 64th Festival de Cannes © Paul Smith / Featureflash

Silent movie star

Deneuve stars as 17-year-old Geneviève, the daughter of a struggling umbrella boutique owner in the coastal town of Cherbourg, Normandy, who falls hopelessly in love with a mechanic. The pair fantasise about marriage and what they’ll name their first child, until the tense wartime drama sees the object of Geneviève’s affections whisked away to fight in the Algerian conflict. By this time, she is already pregnant, but her love letters go largely unanswered as her beau’s focus is on the Front. When the pair are reunited years later and she asks if he’d like to see the daughter whose early life he’d missed out on, he declines. The poignant scene, without the cliché of a happy-ever-after ending, captivated viewers and virtually overnight, the young Deneuve was catapulted from obscurity to worldwide fame.

Yet one little-known fact is that Deneuve was silent throughout: the film earned five Academy Award nominations and a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival – but no one had heard her utter a single word. The musical had required a strong singing voice, something which director Jacques Demy thought he’d already found in a Eurovision winner, but when a sudden car accident left her fighting for her life, he was forced to rethink. Deneuve appeared perfect for the role when she auditioned, but there was one problem – she couldn’t sing. Undeterred, Demy hired her anyway, and dubbed her voice with Danielle Licari’s.

The film featured relatable themes: the Algerian war with France, culminating in the North African nation winning independence, had ended just two years before its release, and the conflict remained fresh in many people’s minds. Meanwhile, fiction became reality after one company capitalised on the movie’s romanticisation of an umbrella brand, and launched its own authentic handmade version in 1986. Today, Le Parapluie de Cherbourg is still renowned for world-class umbrellas, and visitors to the seafaring town can visit the factory and dedicated museum.

Deneuve’s next cinematic foray was to the Île-de-France, where she filmed the 1966 movie La Vie de Château (A Matter of Resistance), in which she played a wealthy young woman trapped in a crumbling castle in the countryside, who longs for spontaneity but is restricted by the Second World War. She ends up fielding the advances of multiple men, including a Resistance movement leader.

Château de Neuville © Shutterstock

Although it is set in Normandy, the castle shown on-screen is actually the Château de Neuville in Gambais, Yvelines. This majestic residence is famous as the filming location of two series of Le Meilleur Pâtissier – the French version of The Great British Bake Off. Meanwhile, its real-life dark history during German occupation ties in with the film’s plot, in which characters are seen desperately trying to outwit the Nazis. Surrounded by a stunning 110-hectare park, the château is today available to rent for weddings, photo- shoots and corporate functions.

For a slice of history more closely related to Deneuve herself, why not stay in the very château she once called home? Movie inspiration turned into real-life after the star used funds from films set in Norman châteaux to buy one of her own. However, the purchase wasn’t a permanent one. It’s been almost a decade since Deneuve put her 18th-century castle on the market for €4m but the Domaine de Primard, now a hotel, retains her distinctive stamp. This is due in no small part to Gérard, the estate’s longtime 12 gardener whom Deneuve originally employed to build a rose garden and who is still working his magic on the grounds to this day.

This 100-acre private estate is hidden off a secluded lane a mere hour’s drive from Paris. It makes a superb base for daytrippers, as it’s close to countless fairytale Norman villages, dotted with classic half-timbered houses, while the royal Château d’Anet – thought to have inspired rivalry between King Henri II’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and his wife, Catherine de’ Medici – is just a 15-minute drive away. It’s an underrated classic to rival the grandest of the Loire Valley châteaux, while the best-known excursion of all in the area is painter Claude Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny, with more than half a million visitors each year.

That said, the Domaine de Primard’s magical location on the banks of the River Eure might be difficult to tear oneself away from for too long. Here you can enjoy fine dining overseen by Éric Fréchon, who’s also responsible for the three Michelin-starred Épicure in Paris, as well as golf, hiking, canoeing, fishing trips and horseback riding.

If that fairytale idyll was the place Deneuve once chose to call home, where did she stay for shorter breaks? One little-known location is the Domaine du Châtelard, a country retreat with its own private lake an hour and a half’s drive from the wine city of Bordeaux, and just 17 minutes from the famous comic book art town of Angoulême, home to the annual Festival International de la Bande Dessinée. The owners proudly display Deneuve’s photo on the wall, while staff tell of how she once spent a month here while filming a movie.

Domaine de Primard © Facebook

Screen legend

Of course, Deneuve has starred in countless films since her early debut, so why not familiarise yourself with some while staying in one of the hotels the actress herself has enjoyed? Classics include horror movies such as the vampire-themed offering The Hunger, in which she starred with David Bowie, and Repulsion, which saw her hack a predator to death with a razor after battling horrifying hallucinations and delusions. The latter would see the media label her the ‘ice maiden’.

Other favourites include the psychological drama Belle du Jour, which depicts her character’s secret life at a brothel, and The Last Metro, in which she portrays a struggling actress working under occupation and taking on her Jewish husband’s role as director after he’s forced into hiding. And then there’s the crime drama Place Vendôme, in which she’s an alcoholic would-be jewel thief… in fact, she seems to have played just about every type of character there is. From innocent teenager to murderous ice queen, the many faces of Catherine Deneuve are part of France’s cultural fabric – and, at the age of 80, she’s more than worth celebrating.

From France Today Magazine

Lead photo credit : © Shutterstock

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Chloe Govan is an award-winning writer and channel-hopping Francophile with a penchant for Parisian life. After achieving degrees in Psychology and Magazine Journalism and working as a travel editor and columnist, she developed her freelance career, during which she authored 11 books. Whether she is sleeping in a bubble under the stars in the forests around Marseille or horse-back riding with the chateaux of the Loire Valley as a backdrop, her heart can often be found somewhere in France.

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