Jean-Paul Belmondo, “emblematic actor of a certain cinematographic modernity”

The cross : A national tribute will be paid Thursday to Jean-Paul Belmondo. How did he embody French cinema?

Jean Ollé-Laprune : It is complicated. We can see from the tributes paid to him that his disappearance mixes two subjects. The first is purely cinematographic or even cinephilic and concerns the actor. The second is more related to the social figure it represented.

As for Johnny Halliday, this one went well beyond his films, brought together several generations of spectators, basically embodied a certain era but has little to do with a rather disparate career.

→ READ. A national tribute will be paid to Jean-Paul Belmondo at the Invalides

This goes from the New Wave which revealed it to a frankly commercial cinema. What is the guiding principle?

JO-L. : He was less an actor of the New Wave than that of the new generation of filmmakers of the 1960s and of a certain cinematographic modernity. There is of course the tutelary figure of Melville, then Godard or Chabrol but also Philippe de Broca, Claude Sautet or Jean-Paul Rappeneau. He is an emblematic actor of those years with all the disparity of filmmakers of the time.

In fact, there is not much to see between Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Deray. If he was able to work with both of them, unlike Alain Delon whom the New Wave ignored, it is because he conveyed with him a great innocence and a form of naivety.

They made him a raw material that the filmmakers could mold as they wished. There are not many actors who can fit into the costume of Rio man and Melville’s cassock in Léon Morin, priest. And then he had an obvious charisma in the continuity of a Jean Gabin. Actors who played on instinct.

Belmondo and Delon have been associated a lot, whose trajectories are parallel and at the same time very different. What were their points in common?

JO-L. : They are two sides of the same coin. What brings them together is having worked with the great directors of their time and having shot in films that have left their mark. Those of Visconti, Melville, René Clément for Delon; Godard, Truffaut, Verneuil and also Melville for Belmondo. They are both similar, with the same charisma and screen presence, and very different.

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One was serious, hardworking, tense; the other, on the contrary, relaxed and funny, attracting more the sympathy of the public as of the directors who were less afraid of confronting the animal. Like Gabin or Depardieu, Belmondo on set could go in ten seconds from having a good laugh to the most extreme concentration in the game. This allowed him to take more risks. Finally, they have in common to have used in the 1980s the receipts of the commercial cinema in films which affirmed a certain virility in the air of the time.

Didn’t this step hurt their careers? It is striking to see that the two actors did not manage to age in the cinema?

JO-L. : It is true that Belmondo had pushed the stardom cursor a little too far. He had become his own producer, all communication was centered on him and it ended up harming him, especially during the time of the Guignolo or from Cop and thug. He recognized it himself and ended up putting an end to his collaboration with producer René Chateau.

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All the careers of great players have their ups and downs. But Belmondo, unlike Delon, was able to bounce back more especially with Claude Lelouch who offered him two great roles in Itinerary of a spoiled child and Wretched. He then found a second wind in the theater from which he came. What Delon also tried but failed to find his audience.


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