Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Muse: Françoise Dorléac.

As with the beautiful when they die young, French belle Françoise Dorléac captured imaginations, leaving people to wonder what would have become of this captivating actress if she had lived past 25. 

Françoise was the older sister to legendary french actress Catherine Deneuve (née Dorléac).  The sisters were raised in a family of actors, fathered by actor Maurice Dorléac with two other lesser known actor sisters: Sylvie Dorléac and Danielle Dorléac.  At the young age of 10,  the precocious and extroverted Françoise was already making her debut on stage.   However, as free-spirited and both young Françoise was, her sister Catherine was just the opposite.  Catherine and Françoise appeared in a number of films together ("Les Portes Claquent", "Male Hunt", "The Young Girls of Rochefort"), and were viewed as complementary influences.  They had different temperaments. Whereas Catherine was considered was sugar;  Françoise was spice.  Although they were purportedly close, their opposite natures led to a fiery relationship.  Catherine penned in her book:

  "When we were children, we were almost too close so we fought a lot. We yelled at each other, we fought a lot.  I would say we were almost like fraternal twins-- very complementary and very different at the same time.  Françoise spoke in a very aggressive way....  I was very discreet and rather withdrawn into myself, an introverted child....  The bickering was also a game between François and I.  At a certain level, both of us would say things to see how the other would respond, and we could change our minds five minutes later.  It was our mode of operation...." (from Her name was François,  1996).  

"Francoise was my sister first. As I said, we would yell at each other, she would annoy me, then, we would argue... we banged our heads hard against one another.  Interactions between us were extremely violent and passionate. But this is the relationship sisters often have...  it wasn't on the level of actresses.   We had a vital need to talk to each other.  Sometimes it was more serious than chatting... it was necessary to boost morale, to find words of comfort if one or the other was in trouble.  Françoise and I were like best friends, someone to confide in late at night."  ("Her name was François", 1996)

Françoise formally began her career with the short film Mensonges (1957), studying at the Conservatoire d'Art Dramatique (1959-1961) and modeling for Christian Dior.   She was a pale gamine with brown hair, and her look instantly captivated those in the film industry.  Her motivation spurred her shy sister Catherine to follow her into film.   Upon entering the film world, Catherine changed her last name to her mother's maiden name to maintain a separate identity from Françoise.

Françoise did a number of films before skyrocketing in 1964 from promising starlet to it-girl with the release of François Truffaut's melodrama The Soft Skin (1964) and the James Bond-esque spy spoof That Man from Rio (1964).  The films couldn't show more diverse sides of a young actress:  One role exuding tragic femme the other quirky, ditzy goodtime gal.  "Unlike Catherine, Francoise proved a carefree, outgoing presence both on and off camera. Known for her chic, stylish ways and almost unbridled sense of joie-de-vivre, she continued making strong marks as the adulterous wife in Roman Polanski's black comedy Cul-de-sac (1966) and even joined Gene Kelly, George Chakiris, and her sister, who was now a cinematic star by this time too, in the rather candy-coated The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), a colorful movie which paid homage to the Hollywood musical and one of her most iconic roles. The film resonated with audiences who relished seeing the real life sister-beauties in the role of singing twins who dream of Paris.

Catherine described Françoise honestly, lovingly:  "My sister was a very cheerful young woman, a child, she dressed her cats, loved animals, and later slapped insect-killers. She also liked pickles, chips in the coffee, perfumed talc, and her chihuahua. She was a little extravagant girl who could dance all night, never drank or smoked, but also sometimes a little desperate for attention.  François Truffaut himself often said that he had to be patient with her, and that his strong personality belied her fragile and romantic physique. He sent his letters addressed to 'Raspberry Dorléac' to make sure they're read with a smile."  (Madame Figaro, 1989).  

Although she seemed to have the world wrapped around her finger:  A promising acting career, modeling, a successful family, etc, Françoise was still wracked with anxiety over her physical appearance.  Catherine recalled, "Not only was she beautiful, but she was madly photogenic ... [However] She often told me: "This is the picture that is beautiful, it's not me." She had a look: a beautiful cut chin, a perfect profile, a beautiful jaw, and character to her face. A very pretty mouth, and also a wonderful smile...  I had some traits that may be more stable than those of Françoise, but this does not explain the pain that she could feel.... her home life was a real anxiety. It is quite common among girls pretty to not love themselves physically.... She always spoke of her asymmetry. It was an obsession. I saw her refuse to go out one evening at the last moment, moaning: "I can not show myself with this face, I will not leave. I look terrible." and vanish in the bathroom, broken by anxiety ..."  Françoise was a mixture of lightness and fantasy... bold, determined to make herself seen and heard, unrestrained by anyone, but at the same time, volatile and completely wracked with anxieties.   People who worked with her on set generally loved or hated her.  Françoise could be excessive, exhausting, and unrelenting.  She needed to feel constant love and support, which may have driven her into the limelight of acting, with its constant audience feedback and possibility of obsessive adulation by throngs of fans.  

Françoise's impulsive enthusiasm was something Catherine witnessed from an early age: "Because she was so excitable, she first wanted to be a nun. We attended religious schools. Francoise was very religious and she thought about having a religious vocation. Then, she wanted to become an actress. Basically, the idea of being an actress rose from the idea of ​​being religious."  According to "Look" magazine's 1965 article on the sisters: "As a little girl in ballet class, [Françoise] danced on and on, after blood oozed out of her toes."  Hauntingly, "When she spoke of the future she was quite pessimistic at times, going through periods of negativity. She said she did not see himself growing old, she would never be able to live normally. She would never consider her professional future, so the future was for her a source of concern" said, Catherine Deneuve.

By 1967 Françoise was branching out into non-French movies such as Genghis Khan (1965), Where the Spies Are (1965), and Billion Dollar Brain (1967).  She was on the brink of international stardom until, on 26 June 1967, Françoise died in a terrible accident on the Esterel-Côte d’Azur freeway.  She was traveling from the Nice airport to fly to London, where she was to finish filming on The Billion Dollar Brain.  She felt so rushed, afraid she would miss her flight to London.  At one point, speeding down the freeway in her rented car, she lost control and the car flipped and burst into flames. Witnesses saw the actress struggle to escape the vehicle, unable to open the door. Police identified Dorleac's battered remains from a stub of her check book, her diary and her driving license.

Catherine later admitted, "It was an event far too violent, too traumatic for everyone... for my parents, my sisters, for myself, so we can't talk about it.  Its our history, our unity, our way of being together. Intuitively, we felt that the reunification of our sorrows would not have meant much. And just to mention the loss of Françoise was physically impossible for us to handle.....  When my sister died, I had no one to share my pain, so I kept it to myself. I was young and working on a movie and I only had one or two days to mourn. It was a bad thing, being alone with this pain. Years later, I was taken back.  It has invaded my life.  It was a very difficult time. [...] I wish I knew how to share my grief when I lost my sister.  I am very, very grateful to know how to do this much better now."

The death of Françoise affected Catherine for many, many years afterward, but she acquired the strength to write a memoir about her life with her sister entitled "Elle S'Appelait Françoise" ("Her Name Was Françoise" quoted throughout this entry), which was turned into a French documentary. Although Françoise Dorléac is not as well-known as Catherine Deneuve, Françoise's influence upon her famous sister is evident and, as you can see in the endless roll call of Deneuve fansites offering photo after photo of the sister-pair posing like gemini, Françoise's spirit hovers in the air as Catherine's fabled soul-twin.

"My sister is pretty;  I'm beautiful. She is a genius, I have talent."
Françoise Dorléac, quoted in Paris Match 2001

"She takes nothing seriously. Everything in life seems like a game to her."
Françoise Dorléac, quoted in Cinemonde 1963, about Catherine.

"Between the two of us, we make one great woman."
Françoise Dorléac, on her differences in contrast to her sister.  


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Françoise Dorléac est immortelle!!!

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