Jean-Paul Belmondo (1933 - 2021)

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An icon of French New Wave and world cinema in general - what a legend.

RIP



"How tall is King Kong ?"
Yes, I am genuinely sad. Of course he belongs to an ageing generation of actors, that is bound to progressively vanish these years. But he was a favorite of mine (as those who had read my thread about french film music must have guessed).

One of the most consistently uplifting actors ever. Elevating any movie he was in, sometimes whole genres.
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R.I.P.


Won't claim to be an expert in his work (and I'll humbly ask Flicker to shower us with recommendations as I believe he's a fan), but loved him in his Godards as well as Le Doulos, Leon Morin, Priest and That Man From Rio.



RIP to a real legend. Like a lot of people, one of my early forays into "international cinema" was Breathless. His performance is a part of how great that film is, so he is one of the reasons I've now seen as many great films as I have.



JPB has passed away. Great actor. Was terrific in 'Breathless' with Jean Seberg.
More sad news. LOVED HIM in Breathless.
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R.I.P.


Won't claim to be an expert in his work (and I'll humbly ask Flicker to shower us with recommendations as I believe he's a fan), but loved him in his Godards as well as Le Doulos, Leon Morin, Priest and That Man From Rio.
He was so good in Léon Morin, Priest. As a Catholic I expected him to be cringeworthy as a priest, but he was terrifically convincing.



"How tall is King Kong ?"
(and I'll humbly ask Flicker to shower us with recommendations as I believe he's a fan)
It was such a cheerful thing to do in that musical promenade thread. Now it's so terribly depressing. I don't take it very well when death removes an icon of light-heartedness, easy-goingness and joie de vivre. It's so... dunno... improper ?

So, of course, Belmondo is mostly known abroad for his serious-ish roles in great directors' works, such as Godard (Breathless and Pierrot le Fou are classics) and Melville (Leo Morin prêtre or Le Doulos). In France, he's more known for popular action comedies. Themselves varied in style.

They started very comedic. Typically, it's the Belmondo of L'Homme de Rio. You could draw a parallel with Jackie Chan : he played acrobatic, heroic daredevils, undefeatable in fistfights, but still always on the verge of ridicule, on a fine line between courageous deliberate stunts and impossible accidental situations. It's a mix of slapstick humor, spectacle and adventure very similar to Buster Keaton's The General. Heroism through hot-headed carelessness. The stakes were heightened by the sense of juvenile vulnerability. Another brilliant illustration of it is The Brain, with David Niven and the comedic french legend André Bourvil.



What makes Belmondo stand apart from any other action hero is his kind of humour (often served by the genius dialogue writer Michel Audiard) and his self-assured, overly theatrical delivery. His character's interactions, and his taste for disguises, can also be reminded of by Eddie Murphy. I'm trying to draw comparisons with more internationally famous action stars, to illustrate my point. So, Belmondo = Buster Keaton + Jackie Chan + Eddie Murphy. If it makes sense. And like Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan, Belmondo was notorious for doing his own stunts (and damaging himself quite a lot in the process).

L'incorrigible and Le guignolo are two examples of comedies relying on Belmondo's taste for disguises and unstoppable bull***t delivery.



And this defining theatrical aspect is present in all his later roles. Even in somewhat serious movies such as Weekend à Zuydcoote (Henri Verneuil's take on Dunkirk) or Borsalino (Demy's mafia movie with Delon), he interpreted the resident somewhat anarchistic jokester. Even when France was hit by the trend of 70/80s vigilante movies, with him and Delon as the go-to action heroes, he retained his theatrical style, and kept delivering snappy, humorous pieces of dialogue. Flic ou Voyou in interestingly situated middle in this transition.



But he swapped the self-depreciating tone of his early days for a more authoritarian real man™ posture, in movies where big guns and mild homophobia replaced Tintin-like acrobatics.



He aged out of that phase with some dramatic movies that surprised his public with their more serious tone, and got hailed for his emotional performances - in particular for Lelouch's Itinéraire d'un enfant gâté. One of his latest appearances was in Bertrand Blier's extraordinary Les Acteurs, which is a movie about french actors and about french cinema, in which famous classic actors play their own roles, and, in a way, caricatures or subversions of their own public personas, questioning each others about their personalities in cruel dialogues, or revealing themselves through surreal occurrences. Near the end of the movie, a strange and ominous police force rounds up old famous actors to interrogate and eliminate them, in order to make way for a new era. It's in this context that Belmondo appears, as a senile old man who cannot stop laughing and repeating how much fun he had had, even in the face of his own execution. It's a wonderful expression of what he represents. An aged, bygone era of ridiculously fun and inventive french cinema, eradicated by the codes and calculations of today's production system. Just before being shot, his character-as-himself goes : "Wait, I've got to tell you why I had fun. I've always been in a good mood, I was born in a good mood. I've never annoyed people with my anxieties. I had the delicacy of not sharing them with others. You, have to tell you something. You are a****oles. Shoot me, slice me to bits. Ever seen that ? A man who dies laughing."




So, recommentations ? Tough. So many movies, so different from each others, and I haven't seen them all.


0) Among my favorite films of all times, all countries, all genres, three feature Belmondo :

Le Corps de mon ennemi, Henri Verneuil, 1976
A mostly serious movie about a man coming out of prison and seeking the reasons for the false accusations that sent him there, which roots go as far back as his childhood, his father's political career and his early years impossible crush.

Les Morfalous, Henri Verneuil, 1984
A fun adventure film with a Kelly's Heroes pitch about stealing some gold from the WW2 frontline.

Les Acteurs, Bertrand Blier, 2000
A surreal portrait of French cinema's major actors.


1) The atypical classics :

À bout de souffle and Pierrot le Fou, Jean-Luc Godard, 1960 and 1965
Godard's experimental style carried by Belmondo's energy.

Léon Morin, prêtre,Jean-Pierre Melville,1961
Belmondo in an unexpectedly serious early role.

Un singe en hiver. Henri Verneuil. 1962
Two drunkyards antagonize a whole village. One of them is played by Belmondo, the other by Jean Gabin. A classic, all in dialogues and drunk delivery.

Week-end à Zuydcoote, Henri Verneuil, 1964
Belmondo plays an easy going soldier killing time in a harbor village during the Dunkirk debacle. It's some sort of melancholic comedy, in a way. A despaired, detached tone for a strangely cold movie about hope, survival and futiity.




2) The adventure comedies

Cent Mille Dollars au soleil, Henri Verneuil, 1964
Different misfits chase each others through the desert for a truck's precious cargo.

L'Homme de Rio, Philippe de Broca, 1964
The seminal french globe-trotting high adventure classic. Think Indiana Jones before Indiana Jones and with a protagonist who really didn't ask for it.

Le Cerveau, Gérard Oury, 1969
A criminal genius' (Niven) and a couple of small-time crooks (Belmondo, Bourvil) are accidentally plotting to rob the same train at the same time.

L'Incorrigible, Philippe de Broca, 1975
A multiple identities con man tries to fool the social worker who cares for his case (Genevieve Bujold).

Le Magnifique,Philippe de Broca, 1973
A spy novel writer gets influenced by the events of his everyday life, with unpredictable consequences for his heroic main character. Both are played by Belmondo.




3) The cop movies

Borsalino, Jacques Deray, 1970
The rise of two gangsters (played by Delon and Belmondo) during the french 30s.

Flic ou Voyou, Georges Lautner, 1979
A mafia organisation is being harassed by an unpredictable vigilante that may or may not be a cop.

Peur sur la ville, Henri Verneuil, 1975
A puritan serial killer is terrorizing Paris.

Le Professionnel, Georges Lautner, 1981
A governmental assassin is betrayed by his country when his order to murder a ruthless African dictator gets cancelled. Features the famous Chi Mai theme by Morricone.

Le Casse, Henri Verneuil, 1971
A few gangsters who don't trust each others attempt a robbery in Athens, under the watchful eye of a crooked policeman played by Omar Sharif.




4) The supposedly great later movies that I haven't seen but are important nonetheless :

Itinéraire d'un enfant gâté, Claude Lelouch, 1988
An ex-employee recognizes his former boss who had abandoned both his family and successful enterprise by faking his death.

Les Misérables, Claude Lelouch, 1995
A free adaptation of Hugo's novel.


Okay, that's.... the scratched surface. And fans would be horrified by the classics I left out. But anyway, my point above all is to give an idea of his style and range, his variations within it. His "identity" in French culture. We all grew up with his movies, like others grew of with, dunno, John Wayne, Eastwood, Gibson, or Jim Carrey.

It's a huge chapter of French culture, that's closing. Belmondo movies, with their consistent fun and their variety, make for great marathon material. And, to give you an idea, tonight and tomorrow, fourTV channels changed their schedule to show L'as des as, Le professionnel, Peur sur la ville, A bout de souffle, Le Cerveau... Today's been a cultural earthquake, around here.

So, it's nice that this thread got so many reactions from other, non-francophone countries. Made me wonder if that little survey was really needed. But in case anyone is somewhat unfamiliar of this name, I hope I've conveyed a bit of its importance and what it represents here. Around 80 movies throughout half a century. And a real brand, a style of his own, applicable to different genres. For kids, teens, grown ups. And that laid back tone, that made life seem fun and easy even in its most violent, darkest iterations.

It's easy to imagine him die laughing.