LYON – “You’ve really, really got to me,” said Faye Dunaway, blinking back the tears and pausing before further speech at the opening ceremony of the Grand Lyon 2014 Lumière Festival.
Seconds before, a 5,000 crowd packing out Lyon’s hanger-like La Halle Tony Garnier had got to its feet to applaud Dunaway as she made her way to the stage, accompanied by Lumiere Festival director – and Cannes head – Thierry Fremaux to the song of “Windmills of the Mind,” composed by France’s Michel Legrand, who was also in the audience.
The crowd was filled with the good and great of the French film industry, from Laetitia Casta to Nicole Garcia, Pierre Richard, Pierre Ange Le Pogam, Vincent Perez, Luc Jacquet and Julie Gaget.
But with “Bonnie and Clyde” opening the sixth Grand Lyon Lumière Festival, an event entirely dedicated to movie classics and films about them, Dunaway was clearly the star.
Even at 73, Dunaway still boasts many of the features which made her a Hollywood and style icon in a remarkable run of films begun with “Bonnie and Clyde” and climaxing with “Network,” which won her a lead actress Oscar: the stylish headpiece, here a gray homburg, set off by a black ribbon that she tilted down as Bertrand Tavernier delivered a energetic homily in French to her at her side; the high cheekbone; the slight southern drawl; the attention to her hair, in Lyon plaited behind her neck; that combination of stateliness and personal statement, which, as Fremaux, has observed, marks her as a bridge between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood.
She said that she had prepared a few notes on the plane trying to put in to words what music, art – the best art – was really about: Excellent, intelligence, intuition, but most of all beauty; that’s what she had struggled and hoped for all her characters in her career.
“My fans and my friends have supported me in this search for all these years and I thank you from all of my heart and without you I would not be the same Faye Dunaway.”
As Tavernier pointed out in his tribute, if it came to great films by great directors playing opposite notable leading men – Warren Beatty in Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” Steve McQueen in Norman Jewison’s “The Thomas Crown Affair,” Robert Redford in Sydney Pollack’s “Three Days of the Condor,” to name just three – Dunaway’s career has been a remarkable achievement.
Not that “Bonnie and Clyde” was ever regarded as a thing of beauty when Beatty first pitched it to Hollywood. As Tavernier said, it was heavily romanticized, based on a pair put down by John Dillinger as “a couple of punks who succeeded in giving bank robbers a bad name.”
Multiple directors and actresses had rejected “Bonnie and Clyde,” Tavernier said. Curtis Hanson, who went on to direct “L.A. Confidential,” photographed Dunaway, Beatty liked the photos and finally gave Dunaway the part.
Tavernier suggested that Jean-Luc Godard, who was offered the director’s role, suggested setting “Bonnie and Clyde” in Japan. At Warner Bros., Jack Warner hated the film. Its success – it grossed $23 million in the U.S. in 1967 – was due to it being so anti-establishment, Tavernier argued.
Tavernier’s extended riff in French on “Bonnie and Clyde” brought a smile to Dunaway’s lips. Rarely are great Hollywood films talked about with such passion as in France.