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Epinions Review

Susan Frances wrote the following review of Garden of Dreams for Epinions.

Pros: The author gives readers a well-rounded perspective of the actress
Cons: There is a lot of material to sift through for commercial audiences.
The Bottom Line: Be prepared to read a study not only of Simone Signoret's movies but also of her involvement in social campaigns and politically-driven protests.

An obscure actress to most American fans of film noir, French-born Simone Signoret is the child of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother in post World War I. She is the central figure in Patricia A. DeMaio’s “Garden of Dreams” illustrated as an individual who defined the controversies of her day, leading an opulent lifestyle while those she depicted on screen were victims of the wealthy class whom Signoret joined the ranks of as an actress in demand globally.

DeMaio endeavors to shed light on Signoret’s work, her efforts to make people conscious of social injustices and horrifying crimes against humanity, and her affinity for the cinema as a means to showcase the dramatic arts. Audiences acquire a feel for Signoret’s sympathies through DeMaio’s descriptions, perceptive observations, and analysis of the choices the actress made.

A great deal of the book is spent on dissecting Signoret’s relationship with her husband Yves Montand, her affiliations with Communist leaders such as Marshall Tito of the former Yugoslavia and Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union, and her participation at rallies to support world peace and the philosophies advocated by the Communist Party. The private side of Signoret is balanced with her public image as a “thinking man’s sex symbol.”

DeMaio explains that Signoret’s foray into the cinema began in the late ‘30s and early 1940s, bringing suspense thrillers and crime dramas, which were bulked into the film noir repertoire, to audiences. Her characters had an identifiable theme, all conflicted souls who met with a horrific end. Signoret gravitated to intensely gripping characters whose harsh lives inspired her to bring their depth to audiences. DeMaio makes the correlation between Signoret’s inclination to play characters immersed in dark and dismal worlds to the dark and dismal world of her childhood, the Nazi Occupation of Paris which forced Signoret to live with restrictions and curfews. The arbitrary decisions of the Nazis made for an unsettling existence and a surreal lifestyle. Such traits were integral to the plotlines which appealed to Signoret.

Purported in the pages of “Garden of Dreams” is Signoret’s subscription to the Communist ideology of equality contradicting her privileged home life nestled in the lap of luxury. DeMaio broaches such internal clashes without judgment or prejudice. The book is more than the story of Simone Signoret. It explores a generation entrenched in the mid-twentieth century who were the product of social unrest and political tension sweeping across the globe at the time. DeMaio handles the project with diligence and an open-minded approach towards Signoret’s sympathies and social ideology.
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