NEW YORK — Bernadette Lafont, a French actress whose sensuality and ebullience made her a muse of the iconoclastic New Wave that overtook France’s film industry in the late 1950s and early ’60s, died July 25 in Nîmes, France. She was 74.
Her death was confirmed by the University Hospital Center in Nîmes, where she had been admitted three days earlier with heart problems, the newspaper Midi Libre reported.
The New Wave, or Nouvelle Vague, is generally considered to have burst onto the scene in 1959, but Ms. Lafont was ahead of the game. At 19, she starred in François Truffaut’s seminal 26-minute short, “Les Mistons” (“The Mischief Makers,” 1957). In 1958, she appeared as a promiscuous teenager in Claude Chabrol’s drama “Le Beau Serge,” about a man returning to his hometown. Her costar in both was Gérard Blain, her husband from 1957 until their divorce in 1959.
Although she appeared in more than 100 films, on French television, and onstage, Ms. Lafont was best known for her work with New Wave auteurs.
Her other films with Chabrol included “À Double Tour” (“Leda,” 1959), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo; “Les Bonnes Femmes” (1960); and “Les Godelureaux” (“Wise Guys,” 1961).
For Truffaut, she played a talkative murderer in “Une Belle Fille Comme Moi” (“A Gorgeous Girl Like Me,” 1972). In Jean Eustache’s erotic drama “La Maman et la Putain” (“The Mother and the Whore,” 1973), she was cast as the mother. She was a vengeful servant in Nelly Kaplan’s 1969 satire “La Fiancée du Pirate” (released in English as “A Very Curious Girl”), and a cheeky one in Louis Malle’s crime film “Le Voleur” (“The Thief of Paris,” 1967).
In 1986, Ms. Lafont won a César, the French equivalent of the Oscar, as best supporting actress for her role as a housekeeper in “L’Effrontée” (“The Impudent Girl”), starring Charlotte Gainsbourg. She received an honorary César for lifetime achievement in 2003.
Bernadette Lafont was born Oct. 28, 1938, the daughter of a pharmacist, in Nîmes. She studied ballet there and performed at the local opera house before beginning her movie career.
She had three children with her second husband, Diourka Medveczky, a Hungarian sculptor.