Marie Laforêt

As an actress she came to prominence in the 60s nouvelle vague. As a chanteuse she was noted for her beautifully emotional, melancholy voice and went on to sell more than 35 million albums. Marie Laforet was born Maïtena Doumenach in the seaside resort of Soulac-sur-Mer in the Gironde region of Acquitane. After being raped by a neighbour at the age of three, she was unable to speak for a long time. Marie had also developed a natural shyness which she took great pains to overcome as a youngster. She was enrolled at the prestigious Lycée Jean-de-La-Fontaine when the family moved to Paris. Eventually she undertook drama classes with actor/director Raymond Rouleau. At the age of twenty, she won a radio talent contest. Soon thereafter — thrust into almost instant stardom — Marie was cast as the female lead in her first film, the René Clément-directed thriller Purple Noon (1960) (based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Talented Mr. Ripley), starring Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet. In her next high profile picture she was The Girl with the Golden Eyes (1961), permanently taking on the tag and remaining strongly identified with this role for years to come. The director, Jean-Gabriel Albicocco became the first of her five husbands. All those marriages ultimately ended in divorce.

The world of music being still more competitive than that of acting has often prompted hopeful musicians to start out as actors. Marie Laforet was no exception. Her career as a vocalist only took off after she sang the jaunty title song in Saint-Tropez Blues (1961), a musical comedy in which she also starred. However, after that, she went from strength to strength with renditions of romantic ballads and pop hits like Apres Toi Qui Sait, Un amour qui s’est eteint, Les vendanges de l’amour, Viens Viens and the haunting Tu Fait Semblant. She also recorded successful cover versions of Bob Dylan’s t Blowin’ in the Wind,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” and The Rolling Stones number “Paint It Black,” (as “Marie Douceur, Marie Colère”). In the 70s, Laforet revamped her style and her repertoire and widened her appeal by branching out into American and Eastern European folk music.

Her screen career meanwhile continued through the 60s with unabated success in generally above-average productions, usually paired with seasoned box-office stars: in Dark Journey (1962) (playing Angele, a prostitute, this story of a love triangle partnered her with Louis Jourdan and the magnificent Lilli Palmer); Rat Trap (1963) (an adventure, filmed in Paraguay with Charles Aznavour); the Franco-Italian rom-com Male Hunt (1964) (one of several films in which she appeared with Jean-Paul Belmondo); the slick caper comedy How Not to Rob a Department Store (1965) (with Jean-Claude Brialy) and (as a resourceful heroine outwitting international spies) in Claude Chabrol’s sub-Hitchcockian action thriller Blue Panther (1965). Laforet lent a touch of continental sophistication to Jack of Diamonds (1967), an international co-production about a team of cat burglars filmed in Germany and released by MGM, but the picture proved somewhat less than satisfactory. Television became a viable medium for character roles later in her career.

Despite enduring popular acclaim and sold-out concerts, Laforet was less than content with her career, famously declaring “I’m ashamed of doing what I do: interpreting pop songs in a superficial way.” By 1978, she had ceased going on tour (though she did make a final comeback in 2005), resettled in Geneva, became a Swiss citizen and opened an art gallery. She spent the succeeding decades tending to art, writing songs as well as a book of biographical reminiscences. In the late 90s, she returned to the stage at the Théâtre Antoine and at the Opéra Comique in Paris with a tour-de-force portrayal of opera diva Maria Callas in Terrence McNallys play “Master Class”. Laforet finally retired from screen acting in 2010 and died in Genolier, Switzerland, on November 2 2019 at the age of 80.

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