Jean Paul-Belmondo (6.4.1933 to 6.9.2021)

Le Magnifique

This week European cinema lost one of its greatest stars of the 20thcentury: Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Belmondo did it all: after a spell as an amateur boxer he trained as an actor and performed in theatre – a medium to which he returned briefly some 30 years into his film career. In 1959, Jean-Luc Godard cast him in a short film, Charlotte et son Jules, though the director himself dubbed the character’s dialogue, as Belmondo was called up for national service.

From then on he became indissolubly linked with the French New Wave. He made more films with Godard, notably A Bout de Souffle (1960), Pierrot Le Fou (1965) and Une Femme est une Femme (1961), as well as working with other New Wave directors: Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut and Alain Resnais, usually in roles as a petty criminal or other lowlife character. He also worked with Jean-Pierre Melville, who rather improbably, but no less effectively, cast him as a priest in Leon Morin, Prêtre (1961). He acted for other notable directors of the period – Louis Malle, Vittorio De Sica, Rene Clement, amongst others – and his co-stars included Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Jeanne Moreau and Lino Ventura.

Altogether he made more than 70 films: in the later part of his career he concentrated on action and adventure films, many of which he also produced and in which he performed his own stunts. His final appearance on screen was in 2008 in the film Un Homme at son Chien, based on the 1952 Italian neo-realist film Umberto D, directed by Vittorio di Sica. Following this he retired completely because of failing health. 

He is said to have preferred making adventure films to the more ‘intellectual’ films of Resnais, Godard and their ilk. Nevertheless, with his rumpled features, quizzical expression and enviably stylish way of wearing a trilby he will always be recognised as the face of French New Wave cinema.

Truly, as President Macron said, Le Magnifique.

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