GENEVIEVE BUJOLD to stardom on a cool new path

Here’s the young Montrealer who has jumped from nationalist films to international roles: "Just a gadget," a former co-star calls her. "The girl for today," declares France’s most with-it glamour magazine. Our own writer’s verdict? Sex (only) kittens are finished — Geneviève is what’s now

PETER GZOWSKI December 15 1965

GENEVIEVE BUJOLD to stardom on a cool new path

Here’s the young Montrealer who has jumped from nationalist films to international roles: "Just a gadget," a former co-star calls her. "The girl for today," declares France’s most with-it glamour magazine. Our own writer’s verdict? Sex (only) kittens are finished — Geneviève is what’s now

PETER GZOWSKI December 15 1965

GENEVIEVE BUJOLD to stardom on a cool new path

Here’s the young Montrealer who has jumped from nationalist films to international roles: "Just a gadget," a former co-star calls her. "The girl for today," declares France’s most with-it glamour magazine. Our own writer’s verdict? Sex (only) kittens are finished — Geneviève is what’s now

PETER GZOWSKI

ONE OF THE MOST PLEASANT ASPECTS of living in this bi-national country, surely, is the extra fillip that bi-nationalism adds to the universally enjoyed sport of girl-watching. French or English? Your true Canadian can almost always tell after the most casual surveillance. Or rather what appears to be the most casual surveillance; behind his nonchalance, your true Canadian girl-watcher is weighing such subtle clues as the Leg-Shave Factor (French-Canadian girls often don’t), the Hair-Care Extremism Quotient (French-Canadian girls always appear to have spent either two hours or eight seconds on their hair that morning, and never anything in between) or, given the opportunity, the Perfume Effect — French-Canadian girls know what perfume is for. Perhaps even more important, though, is what 1 can only call Instant Mystique. Just as a great chef never measures his ingredients, a great connoisseur of Canadian girl-watching just gets a sense of his subject’s Frenchness or Englishness: the way she holds her head, moves her hands, or meets his admiring gaze. There are occasions when any or all of these factors can be misleading, of course — that, as they say, is what makes horse-racing. But, by and large, before any girl has uttered so much as a sentence in her mother accent, the truly Canadian girl-watcher knows for sure.

It was with all this in mind that I, a T.C.G.-W. if there ever was one, sat waiting to meet Miss Geneviève Bujold in a busy Toronto restaurant for lunch one day this fall. Miss Bujold, I knew, was well on her way to the front ranks of international movie stardom. After being named Actress Of The Year in Montreal last year (although not as a result of it) she had been signed by the brilliant and celebrated Paris director Alain Resnais to co-star with Yves Montand in Resnais’ latest film, La guerre est finie. She was at the moment resting in Toronto between shooting sessions of the film in France and in Sweden, and I had arranged to meet her for an interview. In France, also, she had been photographed for the cover of the magazine Elle, which is to a young actress what making the National League all-star team might be to a rookie hockey player. At the age of twenty-two, she had, in short, already proved to the satisfaction of everyone from Montreal’s French-language critics to Alain Resnais that she had whatever appeal it takes to play in the league of Vitti and Schell and Cardinale and perhaps even Moreau'. And, I had been given to understand, her appeal was uniquely French Canadian. French Canadians, because of the interest they have generated in fields other than the theatre in France, are supposed to be rather in vogue in Paris this year. Miss Bujold herself had told me in an earlier telephone conversation that she thought her selection to play opposite Montand wouldn’t have come about except for the slight touch of the exotic — that’s right, exotic — that her coming from Canada gave her. And furthermore, on a slightly different plane, she had recently been cast by the English-language division of the CBC to play the part of a specifically French-Canadian girl in a Canadianized version of Jean Anouilh’s Romeo And Jeanette. So in spite of the fact that I hadn’t yet seen her perform, I was certain that my years of experience in Canadian girl-watching would enable me to spot her the instant she came through the door.

Well, the point of all this is that I might well have missed her. Had I not left a message with a friendly captain and, as a precaution, asked Miss Bujold to ask for me, I might easily have confused this new star of the international cinema, this ultimate in French-Canadian girlhood, with any of two or three other pretty young girls who came unaccompanied into the restaurant — in Toronto — that autumn day. Might, as I say. The possibility was a remote one. But I think the fact that it existed at all is an interesting

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She’s less a French Canadian than just Canadian, less a Canadian than actress

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comment, not so much on my dwindling prowess as a Canadian girlwatcher, but on movies, and movie stars, and on what kind of girl is able to get ahead in the world of international show business of the 1960s. Geneviève Bujold, probably the fastest rising of all young Canadian stars, is indeed something special, but what she is not is especially — or essentially

— French Canadian. Not. in any case, in the stereotyped way I have tried to describe.

Geneviève, pronounced Jeune - eu -vyev, is a little taller than she appears in photographs, just under five-footseven. Her hair is russet, brushed with studied casual ness. Her eyes are her most striking feature, soft brown, emphasized with the only makeup she bothers to wear. Her nose is rather shorter than perfection would dictate, with the merest hint of a pert upturn. A tiny, paper-thin scar whose origin she has forgotten is barely noticeable on her lower lip. The overall impression she gives is of youth, wholesomeness rather than sexiness, but with a quiet sexiness, too; there is nothing blatant about her. In France, she is publicized as being twenty. In Canada, she says, she “can’t be bothered” to hide her shocking old age. In repose, her face might be that of a teenager, and she has the unusual quality of seeming more mature when she's animated — animation more often makes women seem younger. She has a trim if unmemorable figure, with remarkably small feet and hands. Her English is easy, even idiomatic, and she has a notable mastery of such sounds as “th" and the final “s" — a mimic's ear — but in the full flight of conversation she often throws in French words or phrases. At a loss for words in either language, she has a becoming habit of shrugging her shoulders and saying “elk” like a man clucking to a horse. She often answers questions with a simple “pas particulièrement” or just a good old east-end Montreal “ouais”; although, she says, because of her dramatic training, in France she can pass as French.

She is, in short, much less a French Canadian than just a Canadian, and much less a Canadian than an actress. Far as she is along the road to stardom — and naturally pretty as she is

— she is quite noticeably lacking in that unpleasant quality that marked many earlier stars and which often went by the name of glamour. Unlike many actresses, in fact, Geneviève is quite shy with strangers. The vivacity she is able to transmit on the stage or in films or on television is shaded in private by a youthful reserve. But. also unlike many possessors of pretty faces who have become movie stars, she is all actress.

Geneviève is the second of three daughters of a Montreal bus driver. At sixteen, she left the convent where, like most young French - Canadian girls, she had undergone her primary and secondary education, and auditioned successfully for Montreal's provincially supported Conservatory Of

Music And Dramatic Art. In 1961. with five months of her conservatory training yet to be completed, she left to play in a production of Le Barbier de Séville with the small but accomplished group, the Théâtre de Gésu.

Ever since, she has scarcely had time to learn her lines before moving from one production or one film to

the next. At times, she says, she was working in four media on the same day — radio in the morning, television in the afternoon, a few shots for a movie during the dinner hour and then onto the stage for an evening's performance. She played in everything from French-language productions of Shakespeare to the bitter separatist

films made by the talented and dedicated group of young French Canadians whose work centred around the National Film Board. In 1964, she played an art student experiencing her first love in the controversial Montreal film La terre à boire, made by Les Films du Nouveau Québec. La terre à boire was first stopped by the

Quebec censors and then — after some scenes not involving Geneviève had been cut — deplored by the critics. Her own reputation, however, survived intact. “It was the kind of experience,” she later told Maclean’s movie critic Wendy Michener, “that you have to go through to be sure you’ll never do it again.”

While much of the theatrical activity of Montreal — and the cinematic activity in particular — has been intertwined in recent years with the rebirth of French-Canadian nationalism, Geneviève herself has remained outside such movements. “I’m just not interested in all that,” she says. “I feel as much at home in Toronto as in Montreal — really. I think the greatest thing about Canada is the physical beauty, and a maple tree in the fall is just as beautiful in Toronto as in Montreal.” Her aloofness to political causes has not helped to make Geneviève the most popular actress in all circles in Montreal — though even her detractors admire her total craftsmanship. “She is an actress instead of a person,” says Patrick Straram, the young Radio-Canada broadcaster who played a young Radio-Canada broadcaster opposite Geneviève in La terre à boire. “She’s a gadget instead of a woman. But that’s what directors want now; all movies are directors’ movies, and there’s no question she'll he internationally famous.”

Following her selection as actress of the year in Montreal, Geneviève left last summer on a tour of Russia and France with the Montreal company Le Théâtre dn Rideau Vert. In Paris, she was seen by an assistant of Alain Resnais, the man who'd directed such important films of the French New Wave as Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year At Marienbad. The assistant recommended her to Resnais for the part of Nadine in La guerre est finie. Nadine being a young French girl who becomes involved with a former Spanish revolutionary played by Montand. The film is due for release next year.

From there, as the star of an important European movie, Geneviève could go almost anywhere. Already there have been expressions of interest from Hollywood and England — and the offer of a two-year contract from

the Italian producer Vittorio Baldi. But: “I don’t want a contract like that. They give you that and then they leave you sitting on the shelf. I have no time for that. I want to épanouir, to grow, to develop in my work. I have worked hard for what I have, and I am ambitious.”

NOT LONG AFTER I talked with Geneviève, the movie The Love Goddesses was released in Canada. The Love Goddesses is a racy, enjoyable celebration of queens of the cinema from Lilian Gish to Sophia Loren, produced after more than a year of painstaking research and loving editing by two Canadians, Saul Turell and Graeme Ferguson. Its thesis is a simple one: all the goddesses have reflected the “customs, manners and morals of their times.” First the heroines who didn’t smoke or drink or “even admit they’d heard about sex.” Then the Vamps, as reaction to that puritanism. With the end of World War I, the emancipation of women, and the screen goddesses grew ever more daring, leading up, first to a period of wide-open sexuality in the early 1930s, and then a return to the girl-next-door-worship of the late Depression years. “The Goddess of the 1930s became a normal, well - shaped, well - rounded girl, a heroine with whom you flirted and finally married.”

World War II brought on still another cycle, leading up to what the producers of The Love Goddesses call “the frantic Fifties and the seething Sixties.” Their film ends at the time of Expresso Bon^o, a British romp of two or three years ago. Perhaps, I thought after seeing it, Geneviève Bujold is really the heroine of the next reel, the reel that hasn’t been made yet. She doesn’t fit the stereotyped idea of a French-Canadian girl, and she doesn't fit into any of the old ideas of feminine movie stars either. She is. as Elle magazine in fact called her, the “girl for today,” the girl of the cool, international, sophisticated 1960s. Perhaps the day of the pouty Bardots, and the balloon-breasted Playmates is coming to an end, and the movie queens of the next cycle will be pretty girls who can also act. If so, it’s rather nice to think that one of them will be a Canadian. ★