In 2008, in one of his last roles, Jean-Paul Belmondo I dared to redo the classic Umberto D, by Vittorio De Sica. A Man and His Dog, A Homme et Son Chien, in the original title. It took a lot of courage to make the remake of the neorealist classic, playing – he, who was a star – the role made unforgettable by a non-professional, Carlo Battisti. The film had no repercussions, unlike in the 1960s and 70s, when Bebel, as he was known, competed with Alain Delon the top of public preferences in France.
Delon the handsome, Bebel the handsome ugly. Delon continues as an impassive colossus, but Belmondo left the scene on Monday, 6. He died in Paris, aged 88. “I was very tired for a long time,” said his lawyer, Michel Godest. “He died peacefully.” The cause was not disclosed.
Rumors about an alleged worsening of Belmondo’s health had even been disproved by his friend and actor Antoine Duléry, in an interview with the French TV station Telestar, on Saturday 4. Duléry said he had lunch with Belmondo the previous Monday. “An excellent moment”, he said, adding, about his friend, that he was “an 88-year-old man: he was no longer a young man, but he was fine”.
Son of an artist – the sculptor Paul Belmondo – Jean-Paul gave face to the nouvelle vague when he broke out like the Michel Poiccard of harassed, in Jean-Luc Godard. The year, 1959. The new wave, a movement to renew French cinema in the second half of the 1950s, had already had its baptism of fire in Cannes, with the award for The Misunderstood, in François Truffaut, that year. Michel on the Champs-Elysées, behind Patriciá/Jean Seberg, the American girl who sells copies of the The New York Herald Tribune. One of the emblematic couples of modern cinema was born.
Although he was a hit there, Bebel already had a career in theater and cinema itself, where he had appeared in nine films – harassed was the tenth. Two deserve attention, two police officers – Who Killed Leda?, in Claude Chabrol, and cornered, in Claude Sautet -, the second released only later.
Instantly, Belmondo launched a new type of star. The antiquelan, with his boxer’s crushed nose. The young man – born in Neuilly in 1933 – was a natural imitator. It incorporated tics of famous Hollywood toughs. Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Henry Fonda. Perfect for a film dedicated to a Hollywood B studio, the Monogram. But the model, nothing secret, of the film and the actor were dock of shadows, by the duo Marcel Carne and Jacques Prévert, and Jean Gabin.
Overnight, Belmondo became the most sought-after jeune premier in French cinema – Delon was building his career in Italy with Luchino Visconti. Belmondo, by the way, was also filming in Rome – with Alberto Lattuada (The Forbidden Novice), Vittorio De Sica (Two women), Mauro Bolognini (Bitter Path). In France, he remained connected to Godard (a woman is a woman), but widened the range, filming with Peter Brook (Moderato Cantabile/The Torment of Two Souls) and Jean-Pierre Melville (Léon Mourin, Prête). He didn’t shy away from starting long partnerships with commercial directors like Henri Verneuil, but the most enduring, and happiest, association was perhaps with a small comedy genius, Phillipe De Drill.
In the footsteps of Cartouche, from 1962, they made in Brazil the man from the river, a gem of adventure comedy, and continued with The Fabulous Adventures of a Playboy and The magnificent. Back to Godard, they did Pierrot le Fou, released in Brazil as The Eleven Hour Demon. baby and Anna Karina, an image from the film – the kiss of the two, each in the opposite direction of a car – became the poster of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. New partnership with Melville produced Technique of a whistleblower, but alongside Godard, Belmondo’s greatest films with authors linked to the nouvelle vague were the adventurous thief, perhaps the masterpiece of Louis Malle, and more to a tired old Arsène Lupine than to a new wave, and Stavisky, a sumptuous Alain Resnais. Mr François Truffaut was not the best – The Mississippi Mermaid -, painful deconstruction of a love affair.
Around 1970, Jacques Déray joined him with Delon in Borsalino, homage to Hollywood gangster movies (and the famous hats they wore). The film made box office history. For at least four decades – five -, Jean-Paul Belmondo gave a face to the French authorial cinema, filming with great directors, and also to quality, made by great professionals. In the latter, he not only acted, he produced. These are films written for him, based on stories – and even jokes – that he proposed. With Belmondo, an era of French cinema is gone.