Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Her: Deceased Artiste Bernadette Lafont (part one of 2)

She may not have been well known in the U.S., but Bernadette Lafont was a star in France and made quite an impression on those international viewers who saw her onscreen. She transformed several times throughout her career — from youthful sexpot and star of New Wave features, to daring hippie performer (appearing in several experimental works that are still jarring as hell), to respected actress, and finally senior “character person.” She appeared in over 150 films and TV-movies, but is best-remembered for a handful of performances that were indeed career-defining.

I had the opportunity in April 2012 to conduct an interview with Mme. Lafont where I was barely able to graze her long career but was thoroughly charmed by her honesty and irreverent take on her costars, directors, and career. Upon hearing a few weeks back about her death at 74 in her hometown of Nîmes, I set about writing this tribute, which has grown to two parts.

First the interview: it was done in conjunction with a festival of her films at the Alliance Francaise (FIAF) in Manhattan. One of the more interesting notes we returned to throughout the half-hour we spoke was that some of her best-remembered upbeat films were no fun to make (as with the Truffaut short Les Mistons), and one of the most sad and disturbing films she starred in, Chabrol’s Les Bonnes Femmes — she instantly volunteered that it was a “masterpiece” — was a ball to shoot.

She loved watching movies growing up and got her chance to enter the acting profession when she met the fledgling New Wave directors through her first husband, “the French James Dean,” actor Gerard Blain. Truffaut cast her as the female lead (opposite Blain) in Les Mistons (1957); her character is a leggy free spirit who is obsessed over by a group of young boys (one of whom sniffs her bicycle seat in one of the film’s more “adult” moments).

I asked her about the short and got some interesting replies. The translator used the third person when translating Mme. Lafont’s remarks:

The interview was scheduled for a half-hour, but I realized that by the 25-minute mark we were still in the early Sixties chronologically. I then quickly asked three questions about three films that she starred in, two of which are inarguable masterworks. Now that she has “left this mortal coil,” I’m very glad I was able to ask those final questions. Here is her response about working with Jacques Rivette on the brilliant, immersive Out 1 (1971):

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