French Film Legend Danielle Darrieux Dies At 100

Danielle Darrieux, one of France’s greatest and most enduring stars despite her wartime collaboration with the Germans, has died aged 100 at her home near Paris, her partner said Thursday.

French actress Danielle Darrieux, receiving a Moliere Award of honour at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, during the 11th “Nuit des Molières” theatre awards ceremony. Joël SAGET / AFP

The actress who charmed the world in Max Ophuls’ romantic 1953 masterpiece “The Earrings of Madame de” became unwell “recently after a little fall”, Jacques Jenvrin told AFP.

With her smouldering good looks and sulky pout, Darrieux became a huge international star in the 1930s, playing opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr in the Hollywood romance “The Rage of Paris” in 1938.

But her decision to keep working after the Nazis occupied France, and to act in movies made by the studio set up by their propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, saw her branded as a collaborationist.

However, Darrieux later said that she was forced to take part in a notorious publicity tour to Berlin in 1942 so she could free her husband, the playboy and diplomat Porfirio Rubirosa, who had been arrested by the Nazis as a spy.

She left the German-backed studio after he was released and went into hiding under a false name.

Three years after the war ended she returned to great acclaim in a string of striking roles in Ophuls’ brilliant “La Ronde” and “Madame de” — both later nominated for Oscars — and played the Queen of Spain in Jean Cocteau’s “Ruy Blas”.

She was back in Hollywood in 1952 starring opposite James Mason in Joseph Mankiewicz’s Oscar-nominated World War II spy thriller “5 Fingers”.

– Long line of lovers –
And whatever doubts that lingered about her wartime activities were brushed aside by her searing performance in the title role of “Marie-Octobre”, a 1959 thriller about the survivors of a French Resistance network who try to discover who betrayed their murdered leader.

Beyond her hypnotic beauty, it was Darrieux’s captivating mix of mischief and refinement that had audiences and a long line of lovers falling at her feet.

No film showed that more than “Madame de”, her own favourite where she played a great Viennese beauty who is given pearl earrings by her husband.

“I must have been very much in love to give off such vibes,” she later said. “In love with Max Ophuls, Charles Boyer… and (the great Italian actor and director) Vittorio De Sica, who had the most amazing charm… it was a miracle.”

“Her heart-shaped mouth, her big innocent eyes, her coquettishness. She was a lover,” said the former Cannes film festival president Gilles Jacob.

“Darrieux play women of all ages” with the same charisma, he tweeted.

– More than 100 films –
Equally at ease on the stage both in French and English, she triumphed in “Coco” in 1971, a Broadway musical comedy about the French fashion designer Coco Chanel.

“They asked me to stand in for Katherine Hepburn. I said to myself, if I come out of it alive I will never again have stage fright,” she said.

Darrieux — who died on Tuesday — was still working at 99, and lent her voice for the grandmother in Marjane Satrapi’s 2007 animated hit “Persepolis”, five years after appearing alongside Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Deneuve as another granny in Francois Ozon’s “8 Women”.

“I went to the studio like one goes to school, I was lazy and I remained so,” she once said of a life spent on set, which began in the comedy “Le Bal” when she was only 14.

She was far from lazy, however, going on to act in more than 140 films and television dramas over the next eight decades.

They including some of the best-loved French postwar films, and she struck up a particular rapport with Jacques Demy, appearing in his “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort” as the mother and “Une chambre en ville” in 1982.

Paris theatregoers will forever remember her for her 2003 monologue, “Oscar et la dame rose” (Oscar and the Pink Lady), where she played an old lady visiting a boy dying of leukaemia in hospital. It won her a Moliere award at 87.

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