He inspired the greatest directors. From Becker to Godard, via Verneuil to Lelouch. As fiery as he is sensitive, Jean-Paul Belmondo has left his mark on a French cinema that will bitterly regret him. Died on September 6 at the age of 88, the iconic actor dedicated more than 50 years of his life to this passion for comedy that has never left him.
“My career has been long, very long and it is now coming to an end. Honestly, I don’t look at it. In reality, I see it in people’s eyes”, he explained three years ago in an interview with Corse-Matin. With 90 titles, his filmography mixes comedies, adventure films and thrillers for which he has never been afraid to play stuntmen himself. At his own risk and peril.
It is a meeting that has “sealed his fate”, as he liked to say. Jean-Paul Belmondo was 27 when Jean-Luc Godard, then a film critic, offered him his first major role in the cinema. That of Michel Poiccard, a young thug on the run after killing a police biker. He gives the reply to the American Jean Seberg in this film which will become emblematic of the New Wave. After this success, “they will come to me”, he says in his autobiography A thousand lives are better than one released in 2016. He will shoot twice more under the direction of the Franco-Swiss filmmaker.
“A monkey in winter” (1962)
A very young Jean-Paul Belmondo gives the answer to the legend Jean Gabin in front of Henri Verneuil’s camera in this adaptation of the novel of the same name by Antoine Blondin. The first camped Gabriel Fouquet, passing through the Normandy coast to visit his daughter. The second Albert Quentin, a hotel owner also focused on the bottle. Drunkenness will bring them together. On the set, it took time for the two actors to tame. But the youngest ends up finding an attentive ear with his elder. Like a passing of the baton immortalized on the big screen.
“The Man from Rio” (1964)
He dreamed of being a boxer. But failing to be able to get into a ring, Jean-Paul Belmondo goes into battle to perform his own stunts. Under the direction of Philippe de Broca, the actor uses his athletic physique and makes Brasilia, where turns The man from Rio, his playground. His character, the permanent soldier Adrien Dufourquet, will stop at nothing to save his fiancée, played by Françoise Dorléac, from the hands of his kidnappers. Even jumping from building to building. Except that one day, the cable that holds it hangs and leaves it hanging in the air. “I am not afraid but I am in pain”, he testifies in his autobiography. “I had my baptism of fire in Brazil, familiar with emptiness. Now I can do anything”, he recalls of this pivotal moment.
“Pierrot le fou” (1965)
His kiss with Anna Karina made the poster of the 71st Cannes Film Festival. Nearly five years Breathless, Jean-Paul Belmondo plays chilled lovers for Jean-Luc Godard. And already playing with fire, leaving a train tracks just in time to avoid getting run over. “I have good legs, I know I can run before the train arrives”, he has fun in Ina archives on the set.
It’s a cult gangster movie with a dream cast. Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon slip into the costumes of François Capella and Roch Siffredi, two mobsters from the middle in the Marseille of the Roaring Twenties. Jacques Deray’s film seduces more than 4.7 million spectators in theaters, curious to see this work with the restless backstage. The two stars are broken because of a name story on the poster – that of Delon, producer, appears twice contrary to what the contracts stipulated. The story will be settled in court two years later, with a victory for Bébel. And the two men cut ties. Forty-six years later, Belmondo will however speak of a “faithful friendship falsely interrupted by a falling out in the media”.
“The Magnificent” (1973)
From Rio to Acapulco, Belmondo still travels for Philippe de Broca. This time he plays François Merlin, an author of a black series, and his fictional double Bob Saint-Clar in this wacky and light comedy. “It’s more a film about the imagination, dreams and letting off steam than a detective film”, comments the director. On the set, Belmondo is injured while crossing a bay window. But not enough to encourage him to stop playing stuntmen. “The day when I can’t do it anymore, I’d rather make a different kind of movie. Because doing that kind of thing to sit and watch another do it, it’s not fun.”, he said at the time. The magnificent will inspire the saga of OSS 117 to Michel Hazanavicius. And give Bebel an eternal nickname.
“Fear over the city” (1975)
Parisian police commissioner, Jean Letellier sets out on the hunt for a serial killer. All means are good to get their hands on it, offering Jean-Paul Belmondo anthology stunts. In front of Henri Verneuil’s camera, the actor clings to the roof of a moving metro and runs over the rooftops of Paris, catching up with the gutters. All without special effects. He shoots the final sequence suspended from a helicopter and even gives his director a boost by taking a camera with him. It’s hard to tell yourself that Bébel has not been injured twice by putting this film in a box …
“The Professional” (1981)
He refused the first version of the script signed Michel Audiard. Weapon pointed at the poster, Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a secret service agent who goes against the orders of his hierarchy to carry out his mission and kill the president of the imaginary African country Malagawi. In the skin of Joss Beaumont, he engages in an anthology chase in the streets of Paris which leads him to the Trocadero. Bébel evolves to the rhythm of the music composed by Ennio Morricone.
An alternate ending, in which his character does not die, was even shot. But the tragic outcome of the hero did not prevent the success of the film. More than 5 million French people flocked to the cinema.
“L’As des as” (1982)
Thanks to Gérard Oury, he put on the gloves he wanted since childhood. For the director of The big mop, Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Jo Cavalier, a boxing trainer on his way to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Except that his trip will be disrupted by his meeting with Simon, a little Jewish boy. On the set, Bébel still escapes an accident during a stunt where he is on the hood of a car. The film is shunned by critics but not by the public. With 5.4 million admissions, the ace of aces is Belmondo’s second biggest film success.
“Itinerary of a spoiled child” (1988)
He long regretted being “an actor without price”. He won one of the most prestigious in 1989 for his interpretation of the earthy Sam Lion in Itinerary of a spoiled child by Claude Lelouch released the previous year. But he refuses to travel to get his César for best actor because of a conflict between the sculptor César and his father Paul Belmondo.
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