published 30/09/2011 at 13:17 BST by Ronald Bergan
French actor best known for her role in Jean Renoir's 1939 masterpiece The Rules of the Game
Although Paulette Dubost, who has died aged 100, appeared in far more films than the number of years she lived for, most cinemagoers know her best as Lisette, the coquettish chambermaid in Jean Renoir's La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game, 1939), one of cinema's masterpieces. Lisette, who attends the Marquis de la Cheyniest during a lavish weekend party at a country chateau, flirts dangerously with a poacher turned servant (Julien Carette), while her overly jealous gamekeeper husband (Gaston Modot) tries to catch them at it.
Dubost and Carette play a deliciously sly and comic cat-and-mouse game with the absurdly rigid Modot, especially during the after-dinner entertainment, a breathtaking sequence described by the critic Richard Roud as something from "a Marx brothers film scripted by a Feydeau who suddenly acquired a tragic sense". It is Lisette's behaviour that is the catalyst for the tragic ending of the film.
When Renoir offered Dubost the part, he said it was a small one which would take a day or two to film. But during the four-month shoot, Renoir built up Dubost's role, which came to epitomise her career. With her round face, turned-up nose, cheeky smile and working-class Parisian accent, she became a worthy descendant of the mischievous servant girls one finds in classic French comedies. In fact, the title of La Règle du Jeu echoes that of Marivaux's best-known play, Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard (The Game of Love and Chance).
She was born Paulette Deplanque in Paris, the 11th child of Suzanne Dubost, a singer at the Opéra-Comique, and her gas-engineer husband. Under the influence of her mother (whose name she took), Paulette became a ballet student at the Paris Opera at the age of eight. In her memoirs, C'est Court, la Vie (Life Is Short, 1992), Dubost claimed to have attended courses given by the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and that, when in her teens, the infamous financier Alexandre Stavisky had fallen in love with her.
After she had studied singing and acting at the Paris Conservatory, she was engaged by the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, where she performed in Arthur Honegger's operetta Les Aventures du Roi Pausole for two years. In 1931 Dubost began her film career as a soubrette, continuing in supporting roles in dozens of commercial comedies, mainly for home consumption, usually playing characters under her own first name, otherwise Annette, Babette or Nichette.
In several films of the 1930s, she played the love interest of the marvellous horse-faced comedian Fernandel, performing a number of songs with him. She was also responsible for eliciting a rare broad smile from Buster Keaton at the end of Le Roi des Champs-Elysées (The King of the Champs-Elysées, 1934), when she gives him a passionate kiss. The only French feature made by "the Great Stone Face", the film was not shown in the UK and the US for many years.
However, before La Règle du Jeu, Dubost was widely seen abroad in Marcel Carné's Hôtel du Nord (1938) as the flighty wife of a stolid lock-keeper, Bernard Blier, among the residents of a run-down Parisian hotel. She then took the role of Bécassine (1940), based on a celebrated comic strip about a Breton housemaid, said to be the first female protagonist in the history of comics.
Having refused an offer from 20th Century-Fox in Hollywood, Dubost spent much of the second world war in Morocco with her French businessman husband, André Ostertag, before returning to French films. Max Ophüls cast her as one of a group of prostitutes on an annual holiday in the country in Le Plaisir (1951), with Jean Gabin, and in Lola Montès (1955) as Josephine, Lola's maid, a calming influence on her notorious mistress.
She was now gradually moving into more mature roles as the mother of heroes and heroines, though she was still seen as a servant, a barmaid, or a hotel manager, the latter in Maigret Voit Rouge (Maigret Sees Red, 1963), with Gabin in the title role. (She also had a role in Maigret Sets a Trap, 1958, starring Gabin.)
For Louis Malle, Dubost appeared with Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau in Viva Maria! (1965) and, 25 years later, in Milou en Mai (Milou in May, 1990). In the latter, she was the matriarch who is seen briefly at the beginning, sobbing while listening to the radio news about the riots in Paris in May 1968, but is soon revealed to be busy cutting onions. She then collapses and dies. For François Truffaut, she was Catherine Deneuve's dresser in the theatre in Le Dernier Métro (The Last Metro, 1980).
Dubost continued to work into her 90s, and was paid homage just prior to her 100th birthday in the popular TV programme Vivement Dimanche, in which she was seen dancing to the show's closing music.
Her marriage ended in divorce in 1944. She is survived by her daughter, Christiane, an interior decorator.
Paulette Dubost (Paulette Emma Marie Deplanque), actor; born 8 October 1910; died 21 September 2011
published 30/09/2011 at 13:17 BST by Ronald Bergan