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Deneuve, 70, today blazes new trail

Rising number of interesting film roles mean that older actresses are no longer finding they are unwanted

Catherine Deneuve, who turns 70 today, is one of a generation of mature actresses for whom interesting character roles are no longer a rarity.

Judy Dench, 78; Helen Mirren, 68; Meryl Streep, 64, and Amour star Emmanuelle Riva, 86, have in recent years blazed a trail largely barred to their predecessors.

At a time when many female actresses several decades younger bemoan the lack of good parts for anyone over 40, Deneuve & Co have found themselves in demand, at least in part due to the growing influence of affluent, cinema-loving baby boomers.

Deneuve, often described as the "ice queen" of French cinema, has appeared in more than 100 films and frequently addressed the issue of ageing in interviews. "I don't want to grow older than I am, but I don't want to try to be very resistant to reality either," she told one interviewer during the 1990s.

More recently at this year's Berlin film festival she cautioned that ageing was "not easy for a woman and still less for an actress, but it must not become an obsession".

More than five decades after she first found fame, the actress appeared this year as a harried restaurateur and ageing beauty queen in On My Way (Elle s'en va).

In France, which the British actress Kristin Scott Thomas has said is leading the way in offering opportunities to older actresses, others are also enjoying unexpected longevity.

Fanny Ardant, 64, has just starred as a retired dentist in Marion Vernoux's Bright Days Ahead (Les Beaux Jours) which was the surprise hit of the summer in France.

The late Bernadette Lafont, meanwhile, was at 74 the grandmother who turned to drug trafficking to make ends meet in the comedy film Paulette. That film attracted more than a million cinema-goers in one of the actress's last films before her death in July 2013.

And Michael Haneke's hugely successful Amour featured two octogenarians in the lead roles - Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Riva turned 86 in February on the very same day she attended the Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles as a best actress nominee.

Demographics are one possible explanation for the change in fortunes of some older actresses. According to a recent study by France's National Centre for Cinema, the over-50s now make up the largest group of film-goers, representing 34% in 2011 - up from 14% in 1993 - and well head of the 31% in the under-25 age group.

"In the same way that there are teen movies, I don't see why there would not be films about older people," said director Emmanuelle Bercot, 45, who says she would like to create a role for Deneuve.

"Older people are those who go to the cinema most, along with the young," she added, echoing the findings of the research.

But cinema historian Bernard Bastide said he did "not think that all these examples are the result of a general movement in cinema". Instead, he said he believed that good roles for women in their 50s, 60s and 70s were still the exception rather than the rule.

He added that Lafont described her role in Paulette as "a magnificent opportunity for an actress of her age", rather than one among many opportunities. "She said she had had a big role in each decade (and that) Paulette was the big role of her 70s," he said.

Whatever the precise scope of opportunities for actresses like Deneuve, one thing is certain - they are entering unchartered territory. Ardant said ageing has to be tackled "head-on”, adding: "We should not listen to anyone. We must tame it, like death.”


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