Last Tuesday I was in Paris with Paul Duane and Christine Leteux filming material for our as-yet untitled, undistributed and partially unformed documentary on producer Bernard Natan. We got to interview Gisele Casadesus, perhaps the only surviving cast member of a Natan film. If we had made this a year ago we could have spoken to Paulette Dubost (THE RULES OF THE GAME), who was in LE BONHEUR, and with whom I am still in love.

Madame Casadesus played the romantic lead opposite Victor Francen in her very first film, L’AVENTURIER, in 1934. Marcel L’Herbier directed, and Jean Marais had one line.

We spoke to the great lady in her home, where she has lived all her life. She was born just across the street. She was charming and twinkly and remembered her first film extremely well.

It should make a great chapter for our film.

Afterwards, while Paul was taking pictures of her various souvenirs, she asked me over, saying something that my mental Babelfish translated as “I need to borrow your biceps.” She pointed to a stone bust of Moliere atop a high cabinet and asked me to fetch it down. “There is an inscription on the back which she wants to show you,” explained Christine. I didn’t like the look of the bust. I could barely reach the base of it with my fingertips, and felt strongly that if I did manage to move it, being heavier at the top where most of M. Moliere’s brain was, it would be likely to tilt forward and slip from my grasp, possibly embedding itself in my skull but quite likely falling over my head onto Mme. Casadesus. I demurred. She urged me on. I gesticulated. She assured me I could do it. “You look strong,” Christine translated.

“I don’t want to go down in history as the man who assassinated a leading light of the Comedie Francaise with a bust of Moliere,” I started to say. I indicated that maybe if I had a ladder or a chair to stand on I could at least try safely. Mme. Casadesus agreed at once and went off to fetch a stool. Climbing this, I was now level with Moliere, and took hold of his neck. Being made of papier-mache, a prop for a stage production from some time in Mme Casadesus’ distinguished career, it rose between my fingers as if I were Jean Valjean hefting a party hat. I had been, in the parlance of our times, “punkd” by a nonagenarian French film star.

Right: Victor Francen. Left: Gisele Casadesus. L’Herbier’s L’AVENTURIER (1934).

Casadesus to Francen: Have I changed much?

Francen to Casadesus: Not to me.

9 Responses to “Busted”

  1. Johnny Ferguson Says:

    Punqué, surely?

  2. My God, that is simply sensational! She sounds like an amazing woman. Perhaps you could start a new project…to interview every surviving movie legend (80 plus, let’s say) before they go to the Great Big Studio in the Sky?

  3. She already has her own film being made about her… I’m certainly thrilled we met.

    It’s good to meet these legends when you have a project, it makes it less nerve-wracking in a way. You know what you want to talk about.

  4. I had only seen her in some of her much later film work until last week, when I caught her in one of Louis Jouvet’s later films, Entre Onze Heures et Minuit (not my favourite of his films, I must admit). Her role is relatively small, but her initial scene in particular is very memorable. She sounds like quite the firecracker.

  5. She quoted Jouvet: “In the theatre we play, in the cinema we have played.” Only one film together, but I think perhaps a lot more theatre. She obviously admired him enormously.

  6. I know that Jouvet directed her in two plays at the Comédie française in the late 1930s, according to a book on his theatre work; I don’t know how much other theatre work she did outside that venue while he was still alive.

    Some kind soul put the Jouvet-Casadesus scene from Entre Onze Heures et Minuit online, by the way:

  7. Thanks!

    I believe the Comedie Francaise kept a tight grip on her, which is why she didn’t make any movies for ten years after L’Aventurier: just too busy.

    I think she said that her father, a friend of Jouvet’s, had just died, and Jouvet couldn’t stop talking about it, which made it hard for her to play her scene with the right emotion as she was always on the verge of tears.

  8. This sounds absolutely fascinating. Jouvet acted with her uncle: they were both members of the French players who spent two years in New York in the late teens. The entire family seems to have been ridiculously talented.

    I was watching another late Jouvet film the other day, and there’s a scene with his then-companion Monique Mélinand (who, amazingly, died this year) in which I could swear she’s laughing at him, the man, rather than in character. It’s very amusing.

  9. Everybody in the Casadesus family seems to be a great musician or a great actor, and they all live for like a hundred years.

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