With his tanned face and winning presence, French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, who died this Monday (6) at the age of 88, was the star of the Nouvelle Vague before becoming world famous with his roles in comedies and action films.
Like his accomplice and rival Alain Delon, he was one of the sacred monsters of French cinema. Both triumphed playing gangsters and cops, but had antagonistic profiles.
Away from the distant and lonely Delon, an expert in dark and tragic roles, Belmondo didn’t bother at all with the label of sympathetic comedian and beloved by the French.
“Bebel”, however, disappeared from the screen after suffering a stroke in 2001, which left him very ill.
Born April 9, 1933 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, an upscale suburb of Paris, Belmondo was raised in a family of artists. His father, of Italian origin, was a renowned sculptor. The son dreamed of being a theater actor and enrolled in the conservatory.
“With that physique, you’ll never succeed in this profession”: the peremptory judgment of the dean of the Comédie Française still made him laugh when he told this story, now eighty years old and 70 films later.
– Godard and fame –
After a few films as a rookie, it was Jean-Luc Godard, the pope of the Nouvelle Vague, who spotted his talent and entrusted him in 1960 with the starring role with Jean Seberg in “À bout de souffle” (Hurtened), before “Pierrot le fou” (The Demon of the Eleven Hours).
Also within that avant-garde current, he acted in “Moderato Cantabile”, by Peter Brook, with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras.
“After ‘A bout de souffle’, overnight, I went to Italy to shoot four movies in a row. The phone kept ringing: I could have done twenty a year, if I wanted to”, he said.
His admiration for boxing – another coincidence with Delon – led him to more physical roles in crime and adventure films (“O Homem do Rio”, 1964). She also appeared in comedies with the stars of the moment, such as Claudia Cardinale, Gina Lollobrigida, Catherine Deneuve and Sofía Loren.
Some fell into his arms and formed a couple in real life, like Ursula Andress and Laura Antonelli.
Belmondo was known for refusing to have another person replace him in the fights or dangerous scenes of his countless roles as a policeman or bandit: “Borsalino” (1970), “The Magnificent” (1973) or “The Professional” (1981).
– Back to the stage –
His cinema disappointed part of the critics, who imagined him in deeper roles, although he said without problem: “I’m proud to be a popular star, I don’t disdain the public’s approval”.
And the audience rewarded him handsomely. For more than 20 years, 48 of his films surpassed one million tickets, until the failure of “The Solitary” (1987). “I was fed up and so was the public,” he confessed.
Success returned with “Itinerário de um Aventureiro” (1988), by Claude Lelouch, one of his best roles, which earned him a César of French cinema, an award he nevertheless refused to pursue.
He returned with maturity to the stage, his youthful passion, where he met some of his best friends, such as Jean-Pierre Marielle, Jean Rochefort and Pierre Vernier. He was much applauded in “Kean” and “Cyrano” in his Parisian Théâtre des Varietés.
In 2001, he retired from acting for health reasons, with the exception of a role in the film “Un homme et son chien” (2008), the story of an elderly person rejected by society.
The Cannes Film Festival awarded his career with a Palme of Honor in 2011 and the Venice Film Festival with a Golden Lion.
Forever tanned, “Bebel” continued to draw attention in the press. After the divorce from his second wife, star Natty, he had a relationship with a former Belgian model, from whom he split in 2012.
Belmondo was the father of four children: Patricia (tragically deceased), Florence, Paul and Stella, who was 70 years old.
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