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Half an hour with Mlle Deneuve

Kirsty Wark
by Kirsty Wark
Presenter, Newsnight

Catherine Deneuve: First lady of French film

On Friday evening I had a rendezvous with Catherine Deneuve.

Catherine Deneuve and Kirsty Wark
All smiles - Catherine and Kirsty after their half hour chat
She was in London as the guest of honour at the celebrations for the reopening the Ciné Lumière, which has had a major revamp.

Her new film, A Christmas Tale, her one hundredth, was the Gala performance, and we had negotiated an interview with the French star to talk about her latest role, and some of the iconic films in her career.

We were given our instructions - the interview would take place in the adjoining French Institute after Mlle Deneuve had arrived on the red carpet, and delivered a short introduction to her film.

Everybody would be wearing black and white and the crew would have to be suitably smart. Our cameramen, Frank and Ian, and on sound Mark, brushed up very well I must say, and set about preparing for the interview in the upstairs salon.

Chic Marianne

In any movie I recognise in her performance a certain way of looking. It's a bit like a painting by Matisse, or a movie by John Ford...
Arnaud Desplechin, director A Christmas Tale
Everybody at the Ciné Lumière was very helpful, if a little nervous about the arrival of the of the former Marianne.

And then suddenly, Catherine Deneuve was there in the salon, in a gold dress, sipping champagne, looking very chic but rather irritated. Apparently she didn't like all the formality.

We thought it best to keep our distance until after she had been on stage.

The room filled - A Christmas Tale's director Arnaud Desplechin, and his producer Pascal Caucheteux arrived, dressed in jeans and tee shirts. Both were completely charming.

Later on Arnaud Desplechin told me in hushed tones that, "Catherine Deneuve is a great actress and more than that what we used to call in the 60s an 'auteur'. In any movie I recognise in her performance a certain way of looking. It's a bit like a painting by Matisse, or a movie by John Ford or a dialogue by Truffaut - she has a certain note."

Catherine Deneuve
Catherine Deneuve's new film - A Christmas Tale - is her 100th
Stephen Frears popped in to greet Catherine Deneuve. The French Ambassador in his dinner jacket and bow tie seemed a little perplexed by the whole thing.

After what seemed like an eternity, Catherine Deneuve and Arnaud Desplechin were shown to the cinema where they said a few words on stage and withdrew. Now it was our turn.

We had a half hour slot but were assured that if Mlle Deneuve was enjoying herself we might even have forty five minutes - a real luxury.

Out of the question

Catherine and her entourage arrived back in the salon and all I could see was a sea of smokers - crowded round the French windows - one Anglo French actor was even dragging heavily on non tipped Senior Service cigarettes.

Time was marching on. Finally the room cleared - and we sat down to begin.

I had been warned that she could be difficult, but all seemed well - I brought greetings from Patrick Doyle who had composed the music for several of her films including Indochine and East West - she chatted about him, and then...

"How long is the interview?"

"We have half an hour with you."

"Out of the question, I could not possible talk for that time. I did not agree to this."


My producer Henrietta approached and tried to negotiate - her French is impeccable, unlike mine.

It all looked very precarious - we explained we were shooting for a piece for Monday's Newsnight, and a longer programme as part of BBC Four's World Cinema series.

Worried she might walk, I said, "Look lets just get going and we'll see what happens". She shrugged, smiled I little chillily and we kicked off.

Suddenly everything relaxed.

Deneuve was very engaging and she talked warmly about her new film (which is terrific) and was very interesting on the subjects of Hollywood v World Cinema, her acting style, and how she is perceived.

Then she described her anger over accusations that her late actor father was a collaborator, and gave us the news that she is about to sue the author that penned the allegations.

I asked her about Rachida Dati, joking that perhaps the Justice Minister should be the new Marianne, whereupon Catherine Deneuve - the first lady of French film - told us exactly what she thought about Ms Dati's return to work five days after the birth of her child!

Almost half an hour after we started our interview was complete and Catherine Deneuve rose, smiled, posed for a photograph with me for this online piece and headed off to dinner with Ken Loach, Stephen Frears and the French ambassador.

À bientôt.

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