22 January 2021

Nathalie Delon (1941-2021)

Yesterday, 21 January 2021, French actress Nathalie Delon (1941) has passed away. She was a former wife of Alain Delon and the mother of Anthony Delon. Her film debut in the classic thriller Le Samouraï (1967) proved also to be the peak of her career.

Nathalie Delon
Spanish postcard by Bergas Industrias Graficas, no. 1081, 1974. Photo: Photo Vedettes ENR, Charlesbourg (Canada).

Nathalie Delon (1941-2021)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

One of the most beautiful women in the world

Nathalie Delon was born Francine Canovas in Oujda, French Morocco in 1941. She was the daughter of a French officer. Her young mother moved with her to France, first to Nice and later to Paris.

In 1959 Francine married Guy Barthelemy in French Marocco with whom she had a daughter, Nathalie. She soon returned to France and they divorced in 1963.

Francine started her career as a model and at the time, she was reputedly one of the most beautiful women in the world. In 1962 she had met Alain Delon and in 1964 they married. Their son Anthony Delon, born a month later, would also become a well-known film star.

Nathalie’s own cinema career started when French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville asked her to play in his French-Italian crime film Le Samouraï/The Samurai (1967) in which her husband Alain Delon featured as professional hitman Jef Costello.

James Travers at French Films: “Perhaps the most highly regarded and best-known of all French gangster movies is Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï, a stylish noir thriller which gave actor Alain Delon his most iconic screen role and helped to establish the policier as one of the most important genres in French cinema for over a decade.”

Melville's insistence on casting Nathalie as Jef's prostitute mistress resulted in serious ructions between the director and his lead actor - at the time, the couple were in the process of separating and would divorce before the film was released. The film became a box office hit in France, where it attracted over two million spectators and was also a comparable success abroad.

Lucia Bozzola at AllMovie: “Originally released in the U.S. in an edited, dubbed version [as The Godson] meant to capitalize on the popularity of The Godfather (1972), Le samouraï was restored to its original form in the 1990s, although its visual flourishes, procedural flair, and Delon's existential sangfroid had long since infiltrated the international neo-noir lexicon. It directly inspired John Woo's The Killer (1989) and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000), among others.“

Two years later Nathalie Delon also had a small part in Melville’s L'armée des ombres/Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969), a film adaptation of a novel by Joseph Kessel. It follows a small group of Resistance fighters as they move between safe houses, work with the Allied militaries, kill informers, and attempt to evade the capture and execution that they know is their most likely fate.

While portraying its characters as heroic, the film presents a bleak, unromantic view of the Resistance. At the time of its initial release in France, Army of Shadows was not well received or widely seen. In the mid-1990s, Cahiers du cinéma published a reappraisal of the film and Melville's work in general, leading to its restoration and re-release in 2006.

In between the two famous Melville classics, Delon also appeared in other interesting films including the dramas La leçon particulière/Tender Moment (Michel Boisrond, 1968) with Renaud Verley, and Le sorelle/The sisters (Roberto Malenotti, 1969) starring Susan Strasberg.

At the time, Nathalie Delon was caught up in a scandal. With husband Alain Delon, she was questioned by the police over the murder of their former Yugoslav bodyguard, Stevan Markovic, with whom she also had had a brief affair. Markovic’s corpse was found in a wood, wrapped in a mattress. Investigators found a letter from Markovic linking the Delons and a Corsican fighter named François Marcantoni. The Markovic affair began to absorb France’s political elite when connections were made with former president Georges Pompidou. In the end, only Marcantoni was convicted. Nathalie and Alain Delon divorced in 1968, but she kept his name. The affair did not hurt their careers.

Nathalie and Alain Delon in Le Samouraï
Small Romanian collectors card. Photo: publicity still for Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967) with Alain Delon.

Nathalie Delon
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

I've Seen That Face Before

Nathalie Delon made her English language debut opposite Anthony Hopkins in the espionage thriller When Eight Bells Toll (Etienne Perier, 1971), set in Scotland and scripted by Alistair MacLean based on his own novel. Producer Elliott Kastner hoped that the film would be the first of a series of spy adventure films featuring MacLean's Philip Calvert character by capturing James Bond series fans after the anticipated demise of that series (Sean Connery was said to quit the Bond series).

When Eight Bells Tolls attracted limited viewers, although it was the 11th most popular film at the British box office in 1971 and Connery returned as Bond in the successful Diamonds Are Forever (Guy Hamilton, 1971). So the projected Phillip Calvert series was cancelled.

Delon then was one of Bluebeard’s wives in the thriller Bluebeard (Edward Dmytryk, 1972) featuring Richard Burton as a wealthy Austrian Baron and World War I pilot, who murders his wives. During the shooting, she dated Richard Burton, then the husband of Elizabeth Taylor. She also had dated Eddie Fisher, Taylor’s former husband.

Delon had a supporting part in the British film The Romantic Englishwoman (Joseph Losey, 1975), starring Michael Caine, Glenda Jackson, and Helmut Berger. Also noteworthy is her lead in Peter Whitehead’s final film Fire in the Water (1977) with David Hockney and John Lennon. But her other European films of the 1970s are mediocre.

On TV she did a guest star appearance in an episode of the series Madame le juge/Madame, the judge (Édouard Molinaro, 1978) featuring Simone Signoret.

In 1982, she co-directed and starred in the drama Ils appellent ça un accident/They Call It an Accident (Nathalie Delon, Yves Deschamps, 1982), but it was not a success. The following year, she appeared in the short film Pair-impair (Carole Marquand, 1983). She directed one more film, the French-American romantic comedy Sweet Lies (1988), starring Treat Williams, Joanna Pacula, and Julianne Phillips. Again it was not a success. She then retired.

About her later personal life is known that she had a relationship with actor Marc Porel and both suffered a drug addiction. She conquered the habit and went to the US.

There she lived with Chris Blackwell, founder of the Island label and manager of Bob Marley. Delon wrote the French text for Grace Jones' megahit I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango) (1981), which features on the soundtrack of Frantic (Roman Polanski, 1988).

In 2006, she published the book Pleure pas, c'est pas grave (Do not cry, it does not matter), and twenty years after directing Sweet Lies, she returned to the cinema in the drama Nuit de chien/This Night (Werner Schroeter, 2008) about a group of people try to flee from a dictatorship government.

Nathalie Delon died on 21 January 2021 in Paris, from pancreatic cancer. She was 79.

Nathalie Delon
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no 112.

Nathalie Delon
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 431.

Sources: James Travers (French Films), Lucia Bozzola (AllMovie), Luc Le Vaillant (Liberation – French), Celine Colassin (D’autres étoiles filantes - French), Connexxion France, Prisma.de (German), Wikipedia (English) and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

What a beauty. This post reminds me I need to see Samurai, it's been on my list for years. Interesting that she directed and wrote music too.