The heroine of Golden helmet and the formidable actor-singer discovered by Edith Piaf, presented to each other by Jacques Prévert, were both born in 1921. Their love story, despite its ups and downs, resisted all.
Simone Signoret and Yves Montand would both have been a hundred years old in 2021. An actress, a singer-actor, two sacred monsters and above all a flagship couple of French cinema, united by the same political commitment despite the vicissitudes of life .
It all started with love at first sight. In August 1949, under the radiant sun of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, in the south of France, in the shade of the bar The Golden Dove, headquarters of their mutual friend, the writer Jacques Prévert.
She has a deep and sensual voice, is sparkling and cultivated. Simone Kaminker, born March 25, 1921, who took her mother’s maiden name to play, is on vacation with her daughter Catherine. Her husband, director Yves Allégret, is in Paris. They’re spinning the perfect love and she’s been a star ever since he filmed her in her first big role, Dedicated Antwerp. He, a handsome, somewhat brave kid, a few months younger than his younger brother, gives concerts not far away. Ivo Livi, the son of Italian immigrants, raised in Marseille and who worked from the age of 11, has carved out a great place for himself in the music hall. His name is now Yves Montand. Wink at his mother who hailed him “Ivo, went up!“
Edith Piaf put his foot in the stirrup and put him in his bed. Before leaving him, without a word. The womanizer, bruised, has sworn not to fall in love again. Prévert presents them. Between the petty bourgeoisie of Neuilly and the Marseillais Titi, it happens “a dazzling, indiscreet and irreversible thingShe will say.
The loves in “The Gypsy Caravan“
She lets go of everything for him. Before marrying, they move to Place Dauphine, in Paris. Their cocoon, renamed “The Gypsy Caravan», Welcomes the many friends of the left to party and remake the world, as then their manor house in Autheuil, in Normandy.
The couple share the same sensitivity. Simone inherited from her mother “a sort of quixotic pacifism“. She made her first foray into the proletariat in contact with the de Montand family, who “felt, little child, what oppression, struggle, humiliation was“.
We will see them in a multitude of fights: against nuclear weapons, McCarthyism, for the independence of Algeria, the Chilean refugees, SOS Racism … but also against the horrors of the Soviet bloc: they turn together The confession (1970), one of their five joint films. They have never been members of the PCF, rather companions on the road. Until the tear, in 1956, during the tour of Montand in the USSR and in the countries of the East. We are just after the Soviet intervention in Hungary. Dilemma of the couple. Finally, they go there.
The tour is triumphant but full of sadness. In the Moscow metro, Simone reads in some looks “by coming, you betrayed us“. “I keep on hoping, I no longer believe», Adds Montand. The actor of Z, Caesar and Rosalie and Jean de Florette will even turn liberal in the 80s, to the chagrin of Simone.
As in Moscow, she attends each of her concerts in France, sometimes to the detriment of her shootings. The priority is him. What she sums up as a little feminist: “A married life is built on solid foundations and it is a law of nature: the man dominates, the woman submits“.
“I was never anything other than his groupie. And I’m very proud of itShe said again. This does not prevent him from having a good career, from Golden Helmet at The life ahead Passing by Army of Shadows or The cat… With one of the prettiest records in cinema. Including the Oscar in April 1960 for The paths of the upper town.
Marilyn, a rival in Hollywood
1960, year of international recognition but also of humiliation. She leaves Hollywood to shoot in Rome, Montand stays for The billionaire. His partner Marilyn Monroe falls for this crooner made in France. This is the major breach of the contract. Next to all the others … She tries to make a good heart against bad luck – “Do you know a lot of men who would remain insensitive while having Marilyn Monroe in their arms?– but will never forget.
In “sacred monster, there is monster», Says their grandson Benjamin Castaldi. “They were out of the ordinary, they could be monsters of selfishness and sometimes wickedness“. In 2004, the actress Catherine Allégret will accuse Montand, her father-in-law, of having abused her.
Thunderstorms are frequent in the couple. She drinks – a lot – smokes Gauloise sur Gauloise, ages prematurely and takes refuge in writing. A life in parallel in short, but the bond remains. She died in 1985 of cancer; he survives her six years, remakes his life and becomes a father for the first time. But the two lovers are reunited forever in the Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise.
The Witches of Salem by Raymond Rouleau, in 1957, with Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Mylène Demongeot …