best film: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. There are really three candidates here. There’s Umbrellas (my ultimate choice), Repulsion (overlooked Polanski masterpiece) and Dancer in the Dark (where Deneuve is in support of course). I’ve actually only seen Umbrellas once but that feels like the right answer at this point. It’s visually spectacular—a flood of color and a prime contender for the best mise-en-scene in the French New Wave.

best performance:  Repulsion. Really her top three performances below are all worthy and I could switch with another viewing of each but for now I’m good with Deneuve’s hauntingly vacant performance in Polanski’s claustrophobic horror film. It’s unsettling how good she is—one of those performances that I’m sure people in 1965 asked, “is that an actor?” There’s very little dialogue. Certainly Polanski deserves vast amounts of credit for the atmosphere but Deneuve is a very strong collaborator in this chilling film.

stylistic innovations/traits: One of the seminal acting figures of the French new Wave (with great works that included Bunuel and Polanski as well).  Deneuve is almost always playing a cold or vacant beauty (how could she not with those looks?) but never a dumb beauty or blonde. Her deadpan subtle acting style comes with complexity and that’s a tribute to her skill as a actress. She’s had a very long career (40+ years now) with 17 archiveable films and counting but the five best performances of her career came in the 1960’s (and again largely with Demy and Truffaut who are two major figures in the New Wave). I think you could easily argue she gave the best female performance of 1964, 1965 and 1967. That’s special.

directors worked with: Demy (3) and it’s hard to think of his work and not picture Deneuve. Bunuel (2) from his rich french period, Truffaut (2), Desplechin (2)—taking her into the 21st century and then Mellville, Von Trier and Polanski once

Top 10 Performances:

  1. Repulsion
  2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
  3. Belle de Jour
  4. Mississippi Mermaid
  5. The Young Girls of Rochefort
  6. The Last Metro
  7. Tristana
  8. Un Flic
  9. A Christmas Tale
  10. Pola X

Archiveable films

1964- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
1965- Repulsion
1967- Belle de Jour
1967- The Young Girls of Rochefort
1969- Mississippi Mermaid
1970- Donkey Skin
1970- Tristana
1972- Un Flic
1980- The Last Metro
1983- The Hunger
1997-Genealogies of a Crime
1999- Pola X
1999- Time Regained
2000- Dancer in the Dark
2001- I’m Going Home
2004- Kings and Queen
2008- A Christmas Tale