I FELL IN LOVE with Catherine Deneuve in the mid-'90s, when I caught a restored print of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at Cinema 21. To call Jacques Demy's 1964 mini-opera a transformative experience would not be hyperbole. The movie, and the girl at its center, seemed to exist out of time: magical, romantic, alluring. Not long after, I caught Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour (1967) on cable, and though altogether different than Cherbourg, the deal was sealed. Demy's film is a musical melodrama about young love; Buñuel's is a strange, chilly tale of a bored housewife turning to prostitution for thrills. Though worlds apart, they are hallmarks of Deneuve's career and defining dichotomy: Her best movies are either light love stories or disturbing psychological dramas.
Both The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (screens May 6) and Belle de Jour (screens May 7) are among the 12 Catherine Deneuve films showing at the Northwest Film Center this month, and these additional selections represent my favorites and best illustrate the two faces of this singular French beauty.
Repulsion (1965, screens May 6-7)—Controversial filmmaker Roman Polanski was at his creepiest in this unnerving descent into one woman's madness. Deneuve's doe-eyed innocence and angelic appearance add tension to Repulsion's unhinged sexuality.
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967, screens May 8): Deneuve teamed with Demy again for this tribute to MGM musicals, getting no less than Gene Kelly to hoof along with the French kids singing and dancing about love and dreams. Rochefort also stars Deneuve's real sister, Françoise Dorléac, as her piano-playing twin.
Tristana (1970, screens May 7-8)—A virginal ice princess melts after being taken as an old man's mistress, but her sexual freedom comes at an increasingly cruel price. Luis Buñuel's twisted drama isn't available on DVD, making these screenings an absolute must-see.
8 Women (2002, screens May 13-14): Nearly 40 years after Cherbourg, Deneuve is still luminescent in François Ozon's playful gathering of French cinema stars past and present. Essentially a Hitchcockian musical, 8 Women is colorful fun, and Deneuve delights as always.