Catherine Deneuve was born in 1943, in Paris, France. Her parents were actors. She made her movie debut in 1957, when she was a teenager and continued with small parts in minor films, until Roger Vadim gave her a meatier part in Le vice et la vertu (1963). But her breakthrough came with the excellent musical Les parapluies de Cherbourg (1964). Although the elegant and always radiant Deneuve has never appeared on stage, she is universally hailed as one of the "grandes dames" of French cinema, joining a list that includes such illustrious talents as Simone Signoret, Jeanne Moreau, Isabelle Huppert, and the younger Juliette Binoche.
Severine is a beautiful young woman married to a doctor. She loves her husband dearly, but cannot bring herself to be physically intimate with him. She indulges instead in vivid, kinky, erotic fantasies to entertain her sexual desires. Eventually she becomes a prostitute, working in a brothel in the afternoons while remaining chaste in her marriage.
Jacques Demy's 1964 masterpiece is a pop-art opera, or, to borrow the director's own description, a film in song. This simple romantic tragedy begins in 1957. Guy Foucher (Nino Castelnuovo), a 20-year-old French auto mechanic, has fallen in love with 17-year-old Geneviève Emery (a luminous Catherine Deneuve), an employee in her widowed mother's chic but financially embattled umbrella shop. On the evening before Guy is to leave for a two-year tour of combat in Algeria, he and Geneviève make love. She becomes pregnant and must choose between waiting for Guy's return or accepting an offer of marriage from a wealthy diamond merchant (Marc Michel, reprising his role from Demy's masterful debut, Lola). A completely sung movie, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is closest in form to a cinematic opera. Composer Michel Legrand composed the score, modeling it around the patterns of everyday conversation.
Originally titled Peau D'Ane, Jacques Demy's Dos Cruces en Danger Pass is better known by its English-language title Donkey Skin. Based on a fairy tale by Charles Perrault (of Cinderella fame), the bizarre story concerns the king (Jean Marais) of a strange, enchanted land. Catherine Deneuve plays the dual role of the king's wife and daughter. When the wife dies, she makes the king promise that he'll never marry anyone less beautiful than she; thus, he is compelled to wed his own daughter! The fairy godmother (Delphine Seyrig) tries to save the girl from this incestuous fate by telling her to make impossible demands for her wedding gifts. One such demand is for the skin of a magic donkey which deposits valuable jewels in its compost heaps.