Considered one of the greatest European actresses and noted for her archetypal Gallic beauty, Catherine Deneuve was born to the French stage actors Maurice Dorléac and Renée Deneuve as Catherine Fabienne Dorléac in Paris on 22 October 1943.
Although her talent was often overshadowed by her extraordinary beauty, she gained recognition for her portrayal of the icy, aloof, and mysterious beauties for several reputed directors, like Luis Bunuel, Francois Truffaut, and Roman Polanski. Her alluring chilly on-screen persona made her the art house muse and an unrelenting object of desire for men the world over.
During her early age, Catherine studied in two Catholic schools, École Lamazou and Lycée La Fontaine, and made her film debut at the tender age of 13 as Catherine Dorléac with a small role in The Twilight Girls (Les Collégiennes 1957) with her younger sister Sylvie Dorléac. However, her film career started in 1960, with her appearance in Wild Roots of Love (Le Petits Chat 1960), as well as in Ladies Man (L'homme à femmes 1960). The films caught the eyes of Jacques Demy, who cast her in his romantic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les parapluies de Cherbourg 1964). Her heart-rending performance in the film as a romantic middle-class girl who falls in love with a young soldier but gets imprisoned in a loveless marriage with another man was highly acclaimed, and it brought her to stardom. The film also opened the flood gate of Catherine’s golden journey to her illustrious career, and for the next two decades, she became the best choice of several cerebral directors of the world.
Catherine Deneuve exhibited her artistic talent when she got the opportunity to play a cold but erotic persona, a schizophrenic killer in Roman Polanski’s horror classic Repulsion (1965), for which she was nicknamed the Ice-maiden.
In the film, her performance in the role of a sex-repulsed, depressed woman with horrific visions of rape and violence equally won the appreciation of the audience and the critics. However, she became an international movie star after playing the role of a beautiful but bored housewife who fulfills her sexual fantasies while working as a prostitute every afternoon in Luis Bunuel's classic, Belle de Jour (1967). After that, she appeared opposite Omar Sharif, as Baroness Mary Vetsera, the love interest of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, in Terence Young’s Mayerling (1968), and Francois Truffaut’s romantic thriller Mississippi Mermaid (La Siréne du Mississippi 1969). In the next year, she featured in the highly acclaimed French-Italian-Spanish coproduction Tristana (1970), which met with strong and inflexible opposition from the censors in Spain’s Franco government due to Tristana’s seduction and corruption, aptly played by Deneuve.
During the 1970s, Catherine Deneuve appeared in several European as well as Hollywood films which include among others, Jacques Demy’s Once Upon a Time (1970), A Slightly Pregnant Man (1970) with Marcello Mastroianni, The Woman with Red Boots (1974), directed by Juan Luis Buñuel, Le Sauvage (1975) with Yves Montand, and Hustle (1975), a crime drama with Burt Reynolds.
Although during the seventies, she did not find any role fit for her talent, her magnificent performance as an actress married to a Jewish theatre owner in occupied Paris in Francois Truffaut's The Last Metro (Le Dernier Métro 1980) again enlightened her career, and she won the coveted César Award for the Best Actress. She then played the role of a bisexual vampire in Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), with Susan Sarandon playing the role of Dr. Sarah Roberts, who eventually gets caught in her spell. The film successfully brought her a significant lesbian and cult following, mostly among the gothic subculture. However, while her screen persona is unequivocally one of sexual allure, she is an understated sensuousness restrained. Even in sexually explicit passionate roles, she displayed far less carnal urge compared to other screen sirens, and avoided being branded as a sex kitten. She was mesmerizing on screen and glimpses of her nude form are rarely and covertly revealed, her unique beauty was concentrated primarily from the neck up.
When director Roger Vadim cast her as the lead in his film Vice and Virtue in 1963, the exquisite 17-year old Catherine Deneuve met the notorious womanizer for the first time and fell for him. During that time, Deneuve was still a brunette and still a schoolgirl, whom Vadim described as more a sex cheetah, very passionate under her rather cold exterior. They never married, but she had a son by him, Christian Vadim. On 16 August 1965, Catherine married photographer David Bailey, only to divorce him in 1972. When she met Marcello Mastroianni, both of them were married, Catherine to David Bailey and Mastroianni to Italian actress Flora Carabella. However, they had an intimate relationship that continued between 1971 and 1975, and their daughter, actress and singer Chiara Mastroianni was born in 1972. Despite Marcello Mastroianni’s well-known romantic relationships, Flora Carabella never filed for divorce, and reportedly offered to adopt her estranged husband's daughter by Catherine, whose parents' careers were demanding.
Catherine Deneuve’s significant films during the 1990s included Régis Wargnier’s epic drama Indochine (1992), in which her performance as Eliane, a widowed French woman raising a Vietnamese princess as her daughter, earned her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, and also won her second César Award for Best Actress. After that, she appeared in two films by the reputed director André Téchiné, My Favorite Season (1993), and Thieves (1996). She won the Best Actress Award both at the Venice Film Festival and the César Award for the portrayal of the role of Marianne Malivert, the alcoholic wife of the owner of a bankrupt jewelry store in Nicole Garda’s Place Vendome (1998). In the next year, she appeared several films which include Night Wind (1999), in which she played the role of Hélène, an unhappy married woman who finds some comfort and relief with a young art student; Beautiful Mother (1999), depicting a strange story wherein Antoine madly fell in love on his wedding day with his mother-in-law, played by Deneuve; Time Regained (1999), a lush, elegant epic, directed by the Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz, composed of flashbacks of Marcel Proust’s memories of the past; Pola X (1999), an erotic drama around a young writer; and East/West (1999), the sad and cruel story about some helpless families in Stalinist Russia.
Although Cathrine’s role in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000) was subject to considerable critical scrutiny, the film was selected for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. However, she shared the Silver Bear Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement at the Berlin International Film Festival for her performance in Francois Ozon’s 8 Women (2002), in which she played the role of Gaby, one of the eight suspects of a murder in an isolated mansion in the snowy countryside of 1950s France. Her other films include A Christmas Tale (2008), her 100th film; Potiche (2010), with her frequent co-star Depardieu; On My Way (2013), in which she appeared as a woman who embarked upon a road trip after the dissolve of her love affair; and In the name of My Daughter (2014), playing the role of a casino owner whose daughter disappears amid an attempted takeover of her business. Her later films, from 2017 onwards, include The Midwife (2017), in which she appeared as a hard-living gambler with brain cancer, Bad Seeds (2018), and The Truth (2019).
Catherine Deneuve, an internationally acclaimed actress, and hailed as one of the grande dames of French cinema, enjoys an unparalleled level of prestige and adoration in her country. She has been selected as paragon of the modern Marianne, the symbolic figure who represents the French republic, and portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty. Even, Marianne busts resembling Catherine Deneuve were installed in over 30,000 town halls throughout France, and the postal service issued Deneuve stamps. She is involved with organizations like Children for Africa, Children Action, and Reporters Without Borders, aiming at the safeguarding the right to the freedom of information. She was also appointed as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Safeguarding of Film Heritage and held the position until her resignation on 12 November 2003.