The Proprietor

1996/France/U.K., 113 minutes

Esquire once drew up a list of the hundred outstanding personalities of the world, which included only two French individuals; one was Jeanne Moreau, the other was Charles de Gaulle. Jeanne Moreau is an indisputable cultural icon, an actress who defines an era of brilliant filmmaking in France. She was the Femme fatale of "New Wave" cinema, starring in Francois Truffaunt's Jules and Jim and Louis Malle's The Lovers, as well as in films by Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Buñuel, and Orson Welles. She has also scored conspicuous success in the theater, become an acclaimed chanteuse, and written and directed films. Her circle of friends has included Picasso and Jean Cocteau, André Gide and Genet, Henry Miller and Jean Renoir. Then in the mid-1990s her path and Ismail Merchant's crossed. The Indian ambassador in Paris was giving a party for the French opening of In Custody, and on a whim, she came. These two very committed people who were great risk-takers discovered that they were kindred spirits. Merchant was inspired to make a film in which she would star and he would direct. He imagined her in a role of a French writer but as yet he had no plot or story to go with the conception. The film was planned to be his valentine to films (and to Paris), with its many associations and homages to other movies; it was to be light-hearted and cosmopolitan (again, like Paris), with a fairy-tale ending.