Jean-Louis Trintignant 11/12/1930 – 17/6/2022

Jean-Louis Trintignant, who died last week at the age of 91, was an outstanding presence in European Cinema for more than 60 years. During that time he appeared in more 100 films, across a range of styles from romantic drama to political thriller.

He was born into a wealthy family near Uzès in the Gard region of Southern France: his father was an industrialist and two of his uncles were racing drivers. Jean-Louis himself had a lifelong love of motor sports. He began studying law before transferring to the Institut des Hautes
Etudes Cinematographiques
in Paris, in 1950, intending to be a film director. He also took drama classes, partly to help overcome his severe shyness. His acting career began in the theatre, and his first major film role was in 1956 in And God Created Woman, directed by Roger Vadim and starring Brigitte Bardot, with whom he had a somewhat notorious affair. His career was interrupted by a period of military service during which he was constantly bullied.

When he returned to the stage at the age of 30, in Hamlet, the play was a failure. He went on to make a few reasonably successful films but what made his career for the next 30 years was his leading role in Un Homme et Une Femme, directed by Claud Lelouch in 1966, which was an international success. He was, of course, part of the Nouvelle Vague, appearing in films directed by Truffaut and Chabrol, as well as the emblematic Ma Nuit Chez Maud, directed by Eric Rohmer; but he was never defined by it. He went on to work with many of the most celebrated directors of European Cinema at the time, playing an investigating magistrate in Costa-Gavras’s film Z in 1969, a fascist assassin in Bertolucci’s The Conformist in 1970 and a retired judge turned spy in Kieslowski’s Three Colours Red in 1994. He apparently took great pleasure in playing characters he disliked. He had no interest in Hollywood, although he was the “voice double” for Jack Nicholson in the French release of The Shining – an honour for Mr Nicholson, I think.

After the untimely and brutal death of his daughter in 2003, Trintignant withdraw from cinema, though he made the occasional appearance on stage. In 2012, at the age of 81 and with failing eyesight, he was persuaded by Michael Haneke to take the leading male role in the powerful end of life drama Amour, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Oscar for best foreign language film. He made a further film for Haneke, Happy End, in 2017. His final film, Les plus belles années d’une vie, in 2019, directed by Claud Lelouch, follows up the lead characters in the earlier Un Homme et Une Femme.

Trintignant’s style of acting was understated and he played his roles with intelligence and subtlety, slowly revealing the depths of the character. He remained a shy and reserved man, never comfortable with celebrity, but leaves behind a remarkable and varied body of work. (PW)

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