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The Independent (09/Dec/2006) - Obituaries: Claude Jade

(c) The Independent (09/Dec/2006)

Claude Jade

Actress beloved of Truffaut who played Christine in 'Stolen Kisses'

The French actress Claude Jade made many films for the cinema and television, and had a notable stage career, but she will best be remembered for her performances for the director François Truffaut in three films.

Truffaut had introduced the character of Antoine Doinel as a young boy in the director's début feature, Les Quatre cents coups (The Four Hundred Blows, 1959), which was to be the first of five films following the course of the young man's life over 20 years. Jade made her screen début in the third, Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses, 1968), in which Jean-Pierre Léaud again played Truffaut's alter ego Doinel, and Jade played Christine Darbon, the violin student who becomes his girlfriend and, later, wife.

Jade also worked for Alfred Hitchcock in the spy thriller Topaz (1969), but it was not a rewarding experience, and Jade's role, as the daughter of an agent, was heavily cut.

Born Claude Jorré in Dijon in 1948 to parents who were both university professors, she studied at the Dijon Conservatory of Dramatic Art for three years before moving to Paris in 1966, where she studied under Jean-Laurent Cochet at the Théâtre Edouard VII alongside Gérard Depardieu. She swiftly found work in the theatre, and she was acting as Frida in Pirandello's Henry IV when she was spotted by Truffaut, who cast her as Doinel's love interest in Baisers volés.

The film started with Doinel restless on his return from military service, for which he enlisted after a fight with his girl-friend (Jade). Having difficulty settling into a steady job, he becomes a private detective hired to investigate a shoe salesman. After a brief affair with the salesman's wife (Delphine Seyrig) he becomes a television repair man and reunites with Jade, to whom he proposes.

One of Truffaut's most engaging, amusing and touching films, it is also one of his most personal, and accurately reflects the aimlessness of disaffected youth. Truffaut fell in love with Jade, a cool, pertly patrician beauty, and there was a time when the couple were said to be considering marriage. His affection for the actress doubtless contributed to the conviction of the relationship between Doinel and Christine - his waywardness, her abiding tolerance. The affair ended in 1972, when Jade married Bernard Coste, a diplomat, with whom she had a son, Pierre.

Jade's casting in the Hitchcock film was at the recommendation of Truffaut and Helen Scott, who had translated Truffaut's celebrated book of interviews with the director. Truffaut wrote in a letter to Hitchcock, "Helen Scott will have sent you some photos and a tape recording of the voice of Claude Jade, the 20-year-old girl who plays the heroine of the film which I've recently completed, Stolen Kisses; she is eight years younger than Catherine Deneuve, has something of Grace Kelly/Joan Fontaine about her and, from what I know of the novel Topaz [by Leon Uris, 1967], would be suitable for one of the roles."

Hitchcock took his advice, but the film was one of the director's weakest. Jade's profile remained high, however, and in the same year she was a feisty match for the singer-composer Jacques Brel in the period farce Mon oncle Benjamin (The Adventures of Uncle Benjamin).

When Baisers volés became a hit, Truffaut promised that one day he would ask Jade to help him continue the series, though he mused that writing about Doinel's married life would be "more and more difficult". In 1970 that film, Domicile conjugal (Bed and Board), was released. Now married to Christine, Doinel was still unsettled, writing a novel and having a brief affair with a Japanese girl before trying to come to terms with adulthood and its responsibilities.

It was to be another nine years before the series concluded with L'Amour en fuite (Love on the Run, 1979), in which Doinel divorces his wife, leaving her with their young son, has affairs, and decides to finish his novel. A bitter-sweet tale of transience and loss of innocence, it was also a nostalgic trip for filmgoers with what Truffaut called "real flashbacks", sequences from the earlier movies when the characters (and the cast) were younger. Though some critics lamented Doinel's enduring adolescence ("Won't he ever grow up?"), for devotees it was a suitably wistful finish to the series.

Meanwhile Jade had become a much-travelled actress - she was in the Belgian Home Sweet Home (1973), the Japanese Kita no misaki (Cape of North, 1976) and the Soviet-Swiss Teheran 43 (1980). As a member of Jean Meyer's theatre company in Lyons, she acted in works by Racine, Giraudoux and Joyce, and she starred in the television series L'Ile aux trente cercueils (The Island of the 30 Coffins, 1979) and Cap des Pins (Tide of Life, 1998-2000). In 2004 she published an autobiography, Baisers envolés ("Kisses Flown Away").

She acted on the Paris stage earlier this year in Jacques Rampal's play Célimène et le Cardinal, and it was Rampal who announced that she had died last week of eye cancer.