Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Francoise Dorléac, Long Gone But Not Forgotten


Francoise Dorléac was the daughter of screen actor Maurice Dorléac and elder sister of Catherine Deneuve. The two sisters starred together in the 1967 musical, Les demoiselles de Rochefort or The Young Girls of Rochefort.
She was made famous by Philippe de Broca's movie L'homme de Rio, François Truffaut's La Peau Douce and Roman Polanski's Cul-de-sac, but her career was cut short by her tragic death. Dorléac was killed when she crashed her car. She had been en route to Nice airport when her Renault sports car hit a signpost at the end of the Esterel-Cote d'Azur auto-route, flipped over, and burst into flames. Francoise was seen struggling to get out of the car, but was unable to open the door. Police later identified her body only from the fragment of a cheque book, a diary and her driving license! She was only 27 years-old.





In 1966 the sisters were teamed in The Young Girls of Rochefort, a wide-screen musical follow-up to Umbrellas that reunited composer Michel LeGrand with writer-director Jacques Demy and Deneuve.

But tragedy soon struck when the untimely death of France's rising star took place. Dorleac was killed in a car crash shortly after "Rochefort" finished filming, a devastated Deneuve withdrew from public life and she never discussed the tragedy until 1998. In an interview with The Boston Herald, Catherine finally said her piece about her sister...

"People who worked with her felt Francoise was very special, like a mixture of Kate Hepburn and Kay Kendall (the late British comedienne)," Deneuve said.
The film was shot in Technicolor, reminiscent to MGM musicals of the 40s. Gene Kelly and George Chakiris were part of the cast! 









"I remember the tremendous atmosphere of filming, because we were right in the town," said Deneuve. "There was the incredible heat! And every Saturday night we would each host not a cocktail party but a party, 'Saturday Night Fever.'"
 

"She coped better than me because she had the discipline from ballet I didn't have. We went to London to train with a choreographer, and for French actresses to sing and dance was not the kind of habit we had. It was very challenging."

"Last year I did a special for French television on my sister and that helped me see things that I hadn't seen for a long time," Deneuve said. "It was a very painful, silent thing in my family for a very long time, yes. It's something a lot of people go through. In very close families, it is a subject that is never raised. Nobody's going to talk about it because you think nobody understands."

Dorléac, Deneuve's older sister by 18 months, was first to become an actress.

"We were never rivals," Deneuve said, "because we were so different, she was much more the extrovert, the redhead. Like she said in an interview I saw in my research for the TV special, 'We were so complementary in our differences, the two of us together would have made the perfect woman.'"
Deneuve's first appearance on film was in a 1960 French film that had Dorléac as the lead. She suggested to the director I might play her sister, but when I finished this small part I wasn't sure I would continue acting."

In the years after Dorléac's death, Deneuve said she felt guilty about her success.










"That is a point that is very dark and painful," she said. "I was lacking something and it was never the same. I'd say, 'I would have liked to share this with her.' She would have understood. Also, my friends in the film industry, some of them are directors, technicians, but I'm not close with actressess - you have no time and we're not close to each other, to where we live, to have a relationship. But my sister was my sister. Sisters when you get along together, no matter where you are, you always talk to each other. And I will always miss that, yes."  

"You know, it's very strange," Deneuve added, "the people who knew her, they still talk about her." 

Catherine Deneuve has written a book about her called 'Elle s'appelait Francoise' which is the only and most wonderful tribute to her and her short life.

Francoise exuded French style, the bangs, the hippie chic look, and only her can pull off the eyeliner her character donned during Cul-de-sac, that movie introduced the fashionista in Francoise. A must see movie for anyone searching for a dark comedy.












I read a very touching story about Francoise or Framboise as Francois Truffaut who directed her in  La Peau Douce loved to call her. The two shared a brief romance during filming, and I suspect that Truffaut was still sweet on her at the time of her death. Ten days after her death he wrote to a friend declaring his feelings, "Francoise, Framboise, death in the summer. I knew it was painful. What is Solitude? It is intolerable."

5 comments:

  1. Just saw Les demoiselles de Rochefort, and not knowing who she was, thought she was the more vibrant of the two, although everyone amazing in this film.

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  2. stephen e. hansen portola valleyJanuary 7, 2017 at 5:37 PM

    she was one beautiful woman. i was tempted by many women during my career in stanford, google and other places to break my marital vows -- i faltered only 4 times , ultimately -- but i never had a woman as beautiful as francoise.

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