8th September 2021
On Monday 6th September Jean-Paul Belmondo, icon of French Cinema, passed away. Jean-Paul, who was 88, worked with many of the top names in French Cinema: Jean-Pierre Melville, with Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Claude Lelouche, with Agnes Varda and Louis Malle. With Jean-Luc Godard, the director with whom he will always be associated.
Belmondo was much more than an actor; he was a star. His charisma and screen presence was inimitable. In the three films he made with Godard, he portrayed a petty criminal being hunted by the police (‘A Bout de Souffle’), a lovable rogue with a flair for comedy and dance (‘Une Femme est une Femme’) and an existential adventurer on the road to freedom (‘Pierrot le Feu’). With these three film alone, Belmondo became a part of Cinema history.
What are their plans for the evening ? Belmondo wants to watch a film on TV “With my friend Burt Lancaster.” He turns to the camera and smiles.
Such a scene is typical of the Nouvelle Vague, the French New Wave of Cinema that wanted to move away from studio sets and unrealistic dialogue. It was youth, energy, charm in abundance, and it was referential and respectful to Cinema and filmmaking. We hear projectors whirl, clapperboards clapping, calls for “Lights, cameras, action.” Characters were named after directors (in the above scene, Belmondo is named after the German director Ernst Lubitsch), they would turn to the camera and address the audience. Cinema was fun, it was life, “In a word ’emotion’,” and we were all invited. Fifty years later, the films retain this exuberance, this spirit, this joie de vivre.
Belomondo’s performances contribute to this magic because, for me, that is exactly what Cinema is, what it should be – pure magic.
Jean-Paul died aged 88, so at that age, death is not a tragedy. The tragedy is that he is irreplaceable. His persona was unique. So unique. For many cineastes, he is part of our cultural DNA, his work is ineffably part of our lives, which he enriched.
If you’re not familiar with Jean-Paul’s work, here’s a good place to start, some clips from fifteen of his films:
Just in July, I posted a blog about a reunion Belmondo had with fellow French icon Alain Delon, a post that may be accessed here: https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2021/07/12/quest-ce-que-le-cinema-belmondo-delon/
À bout de souffle 1960 Une femme est une femme 1961 Pierrot le Fou 1965 all directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Le Doulos 1962 directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
La Sirène du Mississippi 1969 directed by Francois Truffaut
Les Misérables 1995 directed by Claude Lelouche
Goodbye Jean-Paul. Merci pour tout
Jean-Paul Belmondo 9th April 1933 – 6th September 2021