This month France celebrates La Fête Nationale (the French Revolution), so what better way to celebrate than to make July’s Old Hollywood Spotlight about French actress Catherine Deneuve?

Considered one of France’s great actresses since the 1960s, Deneuve began acting at age 13. Since then she has worked with famous directors, including Roger Vadim, Jacques Demy, and Luis Buñuel.

Born Catherine Dorléac on October 22, 1943, in Paris, France, Catherine Deneuve followed her parents’ footsteps and entered the acting field. Deneuve was her mother’s maiden name, which she chose to use artistically. Deneuve’s success slowly grew after working in small roles as a teenager — including roles for French director Roger Vadim, with whom she had a relationship and a son.  CatherineDeneuve

With the help of older sister and actress Françoise Dorléac, Deneuve received greater acting opportunities. Deneuve was considered calm and mysterious, completely opposite of her fun and outgoing sister. It wasn’t until 1964 that Deneuve became a star herself, starring in Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg — a musical where she played a teenager who is in love with a man but marries another. Although both sisters had different personalities, they made a unique pair when working together. They acted with each other in three films: Les Portes Claquent (1960), La Chasse à L’homme (1964), and Les Demoisselles de Rochefort (1967). While at the height of her career, only 25, Dorléac died in a car accident; so, Deneuve continued her family’s acting legacy.

Deneuve’s success continued to grow when she starred in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) and in Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Le Sauvage (1975). After her marriage with photographer David Bailey didn’t work, Deneuve starred in five movies with Italian actor Marcello Matroianni — her lover with whom she had a daughter. Deneuve has appeared in more than 100 films of various genres, and she even lent her voice for Disney’s French version of the animated film Monsters University. Although most movies she appeared in were French, Deneuve did work in American films, such as The April Fools (1969) and The Hunger (1983). Deneuve has received two César awards from the French Academy of Cinema and was nominated for an Academy Award for her acting in the movie Indochine (1992).

When the Guardian asked Deneuve in 2009 what she thought of people still considering her as the beautiful French woman of the ’60s, she said, “That’s how people see me, but I’m not sure they see me on films now. It’s still like Belle de Jour, Umbrellas of Cherbourg — an image. But I don’t mind. It’s also a real image, I’ve done those films.”

Deneuve was the spokesmodel for Chanel No. 5 and the muse for fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. She has also been Marianne — France’s female representation of the republic, which signifies liberty and democracy. Her image appears on stamps, coins, and official government documents. Other French celebrities chosen to be Marianne include Brigitte Bardot and Laetitia Casta.

Deneuve is more than her beauty. Aside from her cinematic career, Deneuve has dedicated her time to non-governmental organizations since the ’70s to help disadvantaged children and disabled victims, to help women, and to support the freedom of journalism. She has been against the death penalty and torture, has fought against AIDS and cancer, and is in favor of abortion. Deneuve said, “I am a feminist through experience not choice. I was a feminist from a very early age because I am from a family of women, so it comes naturally to me.”

In 1994, Deneuve was named UNESCO’S Goodwill Ambassador for the Safeguarding of Film Heritage. She has been committed to helping developing countries restore and save their film heritage with the 21st Century Memory project.

She also had a brief music career consisting of duets with other French and English actors, and in the 1980s she released an album with songs by Serge Gainsbourg.

The Lumière Festival will honor Deneuve’s 6-decade career with a major career achievement award on October 14. The Lumière Festival’s director, Thierry Frémaux, said, “She’s more than an actress, she’s a personality. The way an artist chooses who they work with says a lot about them. From her role with Danielle Darrieux, Jacques Demy, with Luis Buñuel, and today she goes along with the young film makers. She also fought a lot for women in the 1970s and 80s. She’s a star. Mysterious and approachable at the same time.”

Catherine Deneuve has been more than a beauty icon for France. She has been an actress and an activist who has impacted the lives of people around the world. Even with a successful career in cinema, Deneuve has never worked in theater because of her stage fright. Therefore, she continues to act in movies and like others, she enjoys going to movie theaters.

“For me, to see a film, and to be shown a story with actors that I like or actors that I don’t know, it’s always a discovery. It’s a desire, and it’s something very important in my life. It’s still something that I’m looking for, you know? It’s like listening to music – it’s part of my life.” – Catherine Deneuve

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