Marie Laforêt, the French actress and singer known in Europe as “the girl with the golden eyes” (“la fille aux yeux d’or”), died on Saturday in Genolier, Switzerland, a small town in the Nyon district north of Geneva. She was 80.
The death was announced in a statement from her family.
Ms. Laforêt appeared in some 35 feature films, as well as numerous television movies and mini-series, but her music career was even more successful than her work onscreen. She sold more than 35 million records, counting among her biggest hits “Vendanges l’Amour,” “Ivan, Boris et Moi,” “Viens, Viens” and “Il A Neigé sur Yesterday” (“It Has Snowed on Yesterday”), a 1977 tribute to the Beatles. Her songs were strongly influenced by folk music, and she even recorded versions of American folk songs, including “House of the Rising Sun.”
She came from “a bourgeois milieu” and a family that was passionate about music, she said in a 2008 interview with the French newsmagazine VSD (Vendredi Samedi Dimanche). “The tea was brought on a silver platter at 5 p.m.,” she recalled, adding: “My parents used the formal address ‘vous.’ My mother changed for dinner.”
But her early years included considerable trauma.
Maïtène Marie Brigitte Doumenach was born on Oct. 5, 1939, in Soulac-sur-Mer, France, a seaside resort town north of Bordeaux. Her parents, Jean Doumenach, a manufacturer, and Marie-Louise (Saint Guily) Doumenach, had one other daughter.
At 3, Maïtène suddenly stopped speaking. More than three decades later, Ms. Laforêt revealed publicly that she had been raped by a neighbor that year, more than once, while her father was in a German prisoner-of-war camp. She was deeply affected for decades, and it was suggested in various articles that she later turned to acting because it offered catharsis. She agreed.
At the end of World War II, Maïtène’s father returned and the family moved — first to Valenciennes, in the North of France, and then to Paris. She attended Lycée Jean de La Fontaine, in the wealthy 16th arrondissement, where she became interested in drama.
For a while, she talked about becoming a nun. But when she entered a radio talent contest in 1959 (filling in for her sister at the last minute), she won and was discovered by the director Louis Malle.
She was signed to appear in Malle’s next film, but that project fell through. Instead she made her film debut, at 19, in “Purple Noon” (“Plein Soleil”), a 1960 movie based on a Patricia Highsmith novel about a handsome, homicidal young con man. She starred opposite Alain Delon as an indolent rich girl living in Italy, later played by Gwyneth Paltrow in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the 1999 American film, starring Matt Damon, based on the same novel.
Ms. Laforêt’s second film, “Saint-Tropez Blues” (1961), in which she sang the title song, led to her career as a vocalist. Her third, “The Girl With the Golden Eyes” (1961), gave her a lifelong professional nickname. (Her eyes were actually yellow-green.)
When that film opened in New York the next year, it led the critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times to evaluate French cinema’s latest direction, the Nouvelle Vague, or New Wave. He declared the picture “beautifully photographed” but said that it seemed to hit “the jackpot of intentional obscurity.” Happily, he found Ms. Laforêt “haunting.”
Ms. Laforêt left France for Switzerland in 1978 and ran an art gallery in Geneva for three years. She remained in her adopted country for the rest of her life, but did return to the entertainment industry.
In the 1980s and ’90s, she appeared in films, television movies and mini-series. In 2005, she gave a sold-out concert tour of France. She played Maria Callas onstage in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” twice, in 2000 and 2008.
Her final screen appearances were in “God’s Offices” (“Les Bureaux de Dieu”), a 2008 film about social workers and pregnant women, and “Dispositif 47 — the Second Death” (2010), a short that also starred Jeanne Moreau.
Ms. Laforêt was married and divorced five times. Her first husband, Jean-Gabriel Albicocco, whom she married in 1961, was a filmmaker who directed two of her early movies. She later married Judas Azuelos (1965), Alain Kahn-Sriber (1971), Pierre Meyer (1980) and Eric De Lavendevra (1990).
Her survivors include two daughters, Lisa Azuelos, a French filmmaker, and Éve-Marie-Debora Kahn-Sriber; a son, Mehdi-Jean-Abraham Azuelos; and several grandchildren.
Le Monde wrote in its obituary that Ms. Laforêt was “modest, snobbish and cheeky, all at the same time, with a corrosive sense of humor,” quoting her as saying that she loved “anguished people.”
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