The Day I Had Tea with Jeanne Moreau


The Review/ Short Read/

The Day I Had Tea with Jeanne Moreau

TIFF CEO Piers Handling remembers his meeting with the legendary star

by Piers Handling
Jul 31, 2017

TIFF joins the rest of the film world in mourning the passing of Jeanne Moreau. Below, TIFF CEO Piers Handling offers his personal appreciation and remembrance of one of the true legends of modern cinema.

Like so many others, I have loved and admired Jeanne Moreau from the first moment I saw her on film. Who could not? Her insouciance, mystery, allure, and voice were all parts of a hypnotic screen personality. She has an unmistakable aura. Your eyes gravitate to her.

Her work with some of the greatest filmmakers in the history of the medium will assure her immortality. And I have always admired the parts she played: strong, independent women. Her screen roles are iconic: the adulterous and murderous Florence in Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows; the alienated Lidia in Antonioni’s La Notte; the mercurial Catherine in Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, arguably her greatest performance; Celestine, the title role in Buñuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid; Doll Tearsheet in Welles’ Chimes at Midnight, to name only a few.

Elevator to the Gallows Still 1

Elevator to the Gallows

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Jules et Jim

But Moreau was not just an actor: she actually attended the very first Festivals of Festivals in 1976 with her first film as a writer-director, Lumière. The festival’s guest list for that first edition could be counted on one hand: Paul Bartel, Dino de Laurentiis, Barbara Kopple, Emile de Antonio. Moreau was the glamour. I was there but never saw, let alone met her.

Years later, when my role at the Festival had changed from attendee to organizer, Moreau returned with a film we had invited as a Gala, Cet amour-là, in which she played the great writer Marguerite Duras. Excited, I planned to introduce the film at Roy Thomson Hall. It would be my first chance to meet her. The year, however, was 2001, and the film was scheduled to play on September 11 — bad timing, to say the least. The horrific events of that day meant that we had to cancel all screenings, hers included. As a result, we never met, though we did talk over the phone: I told her how disappointed I was not to meet her, and we promised each other, okay, next time!

Luckily for me, there was a fairy-tale ending to this story: there was a next time. Moreau returned to the Festival in 2008 with Amos Gitai’s Plus tard, and she invited me to have tea in her suite at the Sutton Place Hotel. So one afternoon, I took the elevator up to her room, knocked on the door, and it was promptly opened by Mlle. Moreau.

I remember small details about the meeting. She was gracious and charming, relaxed and informal. Tea was served. I gushed about Antonioni, Buñuel and Welles before she turned to her agenda — and she had one. With all of her disarming charm, she commented on how American the Festival had become, and urged us to reset the balance. It was sage advice from one of the true greats of the screen. That is my one abiding memory of that meeting, along with that oh-so-famous voice and face. Oh yes — that, and the fact that she was remarkably small!

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