26 July 2013

Bernadette Lafont (1938-2013)

French actress Bernadette Lafont (1938-2013) died Thursday aged 74. She appeared in several classics of the Nouvelle Vague. Original and full of contradictions, she was both sexy and rather plain, brassy and quite serious, a mixture of intellect, sensuality and humour.

Bernadette Lafont
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 1076, offered by Les Carbones Kores 'Carboplane'. Photo: Noa.

The Right Place at the Right Time
Bernadette Paule Anne Lafont was born in in Nîmes in the South of France in 1938. She was the daughter of a pharmacist and his wife. As a teenager, she started her career as a dancer. She entered the Opéra de Nîmes where she fell in love with her future husband, the handsome actor Gérard Blain.

In Paris she met the young critic and aspiring film director François Truffaut, who offered her a role in his second short film, shot in Nîmes. So she made her screen debut in Les Mistons/The Mischief Makers (Francois Truffaut, 1957) opposite Gérard Blain. It was a comedy about five kids, who spy on two lovers during a hot summer day. It turned out to be that she was in the right place at the right time to catch the Nouvelle Vague movement, the new wave of filmmakers that would revolutionize the cinema.

She starred particularly in films by Truffaut and by Claude Chabrol. Her first feature and still one of her best-known films is Le Beau Serge/Bitter Reunion (Claude Chabrol, 1958) with Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy. (She had married Blain the year before but they would divorce a year later.) Many Nouvelle Vague films followed.

With Chabrol she also made À double tour/Leda (Claude Chabrol, 1959) starring Madeleine Robinson, Les bonnes femmes/The Good Time Girls (Claude Chabrol, 1960) with Stéphane Audran, and Les godelureaux/Wise Guys (Claude Chabrol, 1961). She appeared in Truffaut’s comedy Tire-au-flanc 62/The Army Game (Claude de Givray, François Truffaut, 1960), and was the feisty heroine of Truffaut’s Une belle fille comme moi/A Gorgeous Bird Like Me (François Truffaut, 1972).

For Louis Malle she did a supporting part in his comedy Le voleur/The Thief of Paris (Louis Malle, 1967) starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, and for Jacques Rivette she joined the cast of Out 1, noli me tangere/Out 1 (Jacques Rivette, Suzanne Schiffman, 1971) and Out 1: Spectre (Jacques Rivette, 1974). Finally, she played the role of Marie, one third of the trio of lovers in La Maman et la Putain/The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache, 1973), considered by some critics as the last film of the Nouvelle Vague.

Bernadette Lafont
French postcard by Editions Borde, Paris, no. 124. Photo: Morel.

Gérard Blain
Gérard Blain. French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 62. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Jean-Claude Brialy
Jean-Claude Brialy. French postcard by E.D.U.G., nr. 67. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Always A Strong Presence
A well-known film with Bernadette Lafont is La Fiancée du Pirate/A Very Curious Girl (Nelly Kaplan, 1969). The success of this film about violence against women renewed her career after a difficult period. She was seen in Les stances à Sophie/Sophie’s Ways (Moshé Mizrahi, 1971), the crime drama Zig Zig (László Szabó, 1975) with Catherine Deneuve, and had a small part as the cellmate of Isabelle Huppert in Violette Nozière (Claude Chabrol, 1978).

In Italy she appeared in the comedy Il Ladrone/The Thief (Pasquale Festa Campanile, 1980). In a 1997 New York Times article, Katherine Knorr writes: “Lafont has in a tumultuous life done a bit of everything, from television movies to the stage, never quite the megastar but always a strong presence, smart and messed up all at the same time”.

In the 1980s she appeared in Chabrol’s crime films Inspecteur Lavardin/Inspector Lavardin (Claude Chabrol, 1986) featuring Jean Poiret, and Masques/Masks (Claude Chabrol, 1987) with Philippe Noiret. She also played in Les saisons du plaisir/The Pleasure Seasons (1988) and other comedies of Jean-Pierre Mocky.

Lafont won the César Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for L'Effrontée/Charlotte and Lulu (Claude Miller, 1985) starring Charlotte Gainsbourg. The energetic Lafont created in 1990 an audio visual workshop to help young actors develop their creativity. She is the co-founder and on the committee that awards the Glace Gervais and an accompanying 100,000 franc prize to works competing in the Cannes Film Festival ‘Un certain Regard’ category. The award was designed to help bolster the budding careers of filmmakers.

Her later films include Généalogies d'un crime/Genealogies of a Crime (Raul Ruiz, 1997) with Catherine Deneuve, and the comedy Ripoux 3/Part-Time Cops (Claude Zidi, 2003) with Philippe Noiret. In May 2007, she chaired the jury for the fifth edition of the Award for Education presented at the 60th Cannes Film Festival.

After her divorce from Blain in 1959, Bernadette Lafont had married the Hungarian sculptor Diourka Medveczky. Although the marriage was difficult and ended in a divorce, there were three children: actress Élisabeth Lafont, David Lafont and the late actress Pauline Lafont, who died in the summer of 1988 under tragic circumstances. She went for a walk near the family property in the Cevennes and never returned. For many weeks, police searched and the popular press went on a feeding frenzy. When Pauline's body was finally found, it became clear she had fallen down in a rough, lonely terrain.

Lafont published her autobiography in 1997, an event heralded by a grand star-studded gala in Paris. For her long service to the French motion picture industry, she was given an Honorary César Award in 2003. She was made Officier de la Légion d'honneur (Officer of the Legion of Honour) in 2009. Bernadette Lafont  had been hospitalised in her home town of Nimes on Monday after falling ill and died early Thursday 25 July, the hospital said in a statement.

Trailer for La Fiancée du Pirate/A Very Curious Girl (1969). Source: Fedesartorio (YouTube).

Trailer for Une belle fille comme moi/A Gorgeous Bird Like Me (1972). Source: Heroxmasox (YouTube).

Bernadette Lafont listens to Edith Piaf's Les amants de Paris in La maman et la putain/The Mother and the Whore (1973). Source: Nostalgist (YouTube).

Sources: Katherine Knorr (New York Times), Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), France 24, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

She will be missed. Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me just played here on TCM last week. It has never been released on Region 1 DVD, so the showing was the first chance for many Americans to see it. She also very good later in her career in matronly roles for French TV.