Remembering French New Wave actress Marie Dubois
Actress Marie Dubois, a popular French New Wave personality of the 1960s and the leading lady in one of France’s biggest box office hits in history, died on Oct. 15 at a nursing home in Lescar, a suburb of the southwestern French town of Pau, not far from the Spanish border. Dubois, who had been living in the Pau area since 2010, was 77. For decades she had been battling multiple sclerosis, which later in life had her confined to a wheelchair.
Born Claudine Huzé (Claudine Lucie Pauline Huzé according to some online sources) on Jan. 12, 1937, in Paris, the blue-eyed, blonde Marie Dubois began her show business career on stage, being featured in plays such as Molière’s The Misanthrope and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
François Truffaut discovery: Shoot the Piano Player
She was officially discovered by François Truffaut, who had been impressed with her work in the television series La Caméra explore le temps (“The Camera Explores Time”) et Les Cinq dernières minutes (“The Last Five Minutes”). Truffaut, in fact, is the one who suggested that Claudine Huzé change her name to Marie Dubois, in reference to the titular heroine of Jacques Audiberti’s 1952 novel about a police officer who falls in love with a dead woman.
In Shoot the Piano Player / Tirez sur le pianiste, the director’s 1960 Nouvelle Vague crime drama and homage of sorts to Hollywood film noirs, Dubois plays the barmaid Léna, Charles Aznavour’s romantic interest. It was during filming that she first felt the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, but that didn’t prevent her from once again joining forces with Truffaut: she landed a supporting role in Jules and Jim, a 1961 drama featuring a (for some) scandalous ménage à trois with participants Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, and Henri Serre.
That same year, Marie Dubois married actor Serge Rousseau (The Sleeping Car Murders, The Bride Wore Black, Stolen Kisses), co-founder of what eventually became France’s biggest talent agency, Artmedia. The couple would remain married until Rousseau’s death of cancer at age 77 in 2007.
Marie Dubois films
Alternating between offbeat New Wave efforts and commercial, mainstream fare, during her four-decade movie career Marie Dubois would be featured in productions directed by and/or starring some of the biggest names in French cinema.
Examples include the following:
- Jean-Luc Godard’s first color film, A Woman Is a Woman / Une femme est une femme (1961), with Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Brialy, and Jean-Paul Belmondo.
- Henri Verneuil’s Weekend at Dunkirk / Week-end à Zuydcoote (1964), with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Spaak.
- Gilles Grangier’s That Tender Age / L’Age ingrat (1964), as the daughter of veterans Jean Gabin and Paulette Dubost, and daughter-in-law-to-be of veteran comedian Fernandel.
- Roger Vadim’s Circle of Love / La Ronde (1964), a New Wave version (adapted by Jean Anouilh) of Arthur Schnitzler’s play featuring an all-star cast that included Jane Fonda, Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Brialy, Maurice Ronet, Jean Sorel, Catherine Spaak, and relative newcomer Claude Giraud.
- René Clair’s The Lace Wars / Les Fêtes galantes (1965), playing opposite Jean-Pierre Cassel.
- Edouard Molinaro’s Male Hunt / La Chasse à l’homme (1964), with Dubois as part of a New Wave ensemble that included Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean-Claude Brialy, Françoise Dorleác (and, in a supporting role, her sister Catherine Deneuve), Marie Laforêt, Claude Rich, Hélène Duc, and Bernadette Lafont.
- Louis Malle’s anti-establishment drama The Thief of Paris / Le Voleur (1967), with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Geneviève Bujold.
- Jacques Doniol-Valcroze’s The House of the Bories / La Maison des Bories, in which Dubois cheats on her husband (Maurice Garrel) after meeting the youthful and handsome Mathieu Carrière.
Record-breaking French blockbuster La Grande Vadrouille
Somewhat ironically, New Wave muse Marie Dubois’ biggest success was in a thoroughly mainstream production. She was the leading lady – or rather, had the top (supporting) female role – in Gérard Oury’s 1966 mammoth blockbuster La Grande Vadrouille / The Big Runaround / Don’t Look Now… We’re Being Shot At!, a World War II comedy starring Bourvil and Louis de Funès, and featuring Terry-Thomas.
Having sold 17.27 million tickets, La Grande Vadrouille remained France’s biggest domestic box office hit until Dany Boon’s 2008 comedy Welcome to the Sticks / Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, which sold 20.48 million admissions.
Gérard Oury’s comedy is now in the no. 3 spot, also trailing Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s 2011 sentimental comedy The Intouchables, which sold 19.49 million tickets. François Cluzet and Omar Sy star. (James Cameron’s 1997 multiple Oscar winner Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, is France’s biggest all-around blockbuster, having sold 20.77 million tickets.)
Dubois was reunited with Bourvil and Terry-Thomas in Ken Annakin’s Monte Carlo-set Monte Carlo or Bust! / Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969), a failed attempt to match – and to expand internationally – the success of La Grande Vadrouille, featuring plot elements from Hollywood’s own box office hit The Great Race and the Annakin-Terry-Thomas collaboration Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines.
The presence of Tony Curtis, Jack Hawkins, Walter Chiari, and Dudley Moore in the Monte Carlo or Bust! cast didn’t help matters much.
Marie Dubois screen test for François Truffaut’s ‘Shoot the Piano Player,’ in which she explains that she finds it easier to curse others out while she’s at the wheel.
French Academy César winner
Although by the early ’70s the French New Wave had become a thing of the past, Marie Dubois kept herself busy throughout the decade. She was most notably seen in the following:
- As Michel Piccoli’s wife in Claude Sautet’s Vincent, François, Paul and the Others / Vincent, François, Paul et les autres (1974), featuring an all-star cast that also included Yves Montand, Serge Reggiani, Stéphane Audran, Gérard Depardieu, and Umberto Orsini.
- As a princess in Luchino Visconti’s last film, The Innocent / L’innocente (1976), starring Giancarlo Giannini, Laura Antonelli, and Jennifer O’Neill.
- As Yves Montand’s madly jealous lover in Alain Corneau’s French-Canadian thriller La menace (1978), which earned Dubois the French Academy’s Best Supporting Actress César.
- As Gérard Depardieu’s wife in Alain Resnais’ psychoanalytical comedy Mon Oncle d’Amérique (1980).
At around that time, Dubois was forced to curtail her acting career because of encroaching illness. From the early 1980s on, she would be seen less frequently and in smaller supporting roles.
She did, however, receive a second Best Supporting Actress César nomination in 1986, for her performance in Francis Girod’s Caribbean-set psychological thriller Descente aux enfers / Descent into Hell, featuring Claude Brasseur, Sophie Marceau, and Hollywood veteran Betsy Blair (Marty).
Final film appearances
Among Marie Dubois’ last feature films were:
- Georges Bardawil’s Saint Petersburg-set Secrets Shared with a Stranger (1995), with Sandrine Bonnaire, William Hurt, and Jerzy Radziwilowicz.
- New Wave veteran Claude Chabrol’s The Swindle / Rien ne va plus (1997), starring Isabelle Huppert, Michel Serrault, and François Cluzet.
- And Dubois’ final effort, the omnibus comedy À vot’service (1999), in which she can be spotted in the Myriam Donasis-directed segment “Le Jour de Grâce.”
In 2001, she was seen discussing life with multiple sclerosis in an Alain Corneau-directed campaign to combat the disease.
Last year, she was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor by French Minister of Culture Aurélie Filippetti.
Fighting multiple sclerosis
Marie Dubois’ autobiography, J’ai Pas Menti, J’ai Pas Tout Dit (“I Didn’t Lie, I Didn’t Tell Everything”) was published in 2002. She wrote:
I was born in the cinema at the very same time that a little death crept inside me. Multiple sclerosis. The first time it’s like a fleeting shadow glimpsed in the night and that dissipates in daylight. Hardly disturbing. Then, little by little, it began appearing in the light. The shadow took shape. And that shape was my own.
AlloCiné was a key source for this Marie Dubois article.
Actress Marie Dubois La Grande Vadrouille image: StudioCanal.
Charles Aznavour and Marie Dubois Shoot the Piano Player / Shoot the Pianist image: Les Films de la Pléiade, via gala.fr.