Before becoming an actor, the recently deceased Jean-Paul Belmondo was a boxer, cyclist, and soccer player. Any sport was good for skipping high school and trying to rebel against his parents’ desire for him to settle down and apply himself in his studies.
Five keys to understanding the cinema of Godard, a nonagenarian revolutionary
Being a boxer they broke his nose and his face acquired a characteristic hardness that, accompanied by a belligerent attitude with any kind of authority, made life difficult for him when he wanted to be an actor. After years of castings that turned out badly and small-time roles in provincial theater plays, managed to take his first steps in the cinema at the hands of some acquaintances of his father, the sculptor Paul Belmondo, such as Marc Allégret (A dangerous blonde, 1958) or Marcel Carné (Les tricheurs, 1958).
In 1959, Claude Chabrol – one of the most cynical and scathing voices of the nouvelle vague–, he wanted it in the cast of his movie A double life. Belmondo thought that with this film he would give the bell and become a full-fledged star of French cinema, but he was wrong. It was not Chabrol who gave him the role of his life, it was Jean-Luc Godard, in a film and a role that would change the history of cinema.
A thief in ‘At the end of the getaway’ (1960)
At 27, Jean-Paul Belmondo played the elegantly tragic Michel Poiccard in At the end of the getaway (1960). Part-time movie helper and full-time petty thief, Poiccard hides from the police in 1960s Paris, where he meets Patricia (Jean Seaberg), a young American who delivers the New York Herald Tribune around the Fields. Elysees.
“Conceived in imitation of Jean Gabin of The dock of mists (1938), although explicit references to Humphrey Bogart abound in his tics, Poiccard is the best representative of the young man of his time “, wrote Javier Memba in his book Nouvelle vague (TB Editores, 2009). And the truth is that the arrogance and nihilism with which Belmondo played this irreverent character, with a haughty expression, greatly in tune with an entire generation that soon after discovered that there was no beach sand under the cobblestones.
An apprentice partisan in ‘Two Women’ (1960)
Following the unprecedented success of At the end of the getaway, which over time would be meant above all as a pulse to the norms of traditional film grammar, Belmondo would enjoy the best and most fruitful decade of his career: some sixty marked by a fame that led him to work on almost fifty films.
Years after filming classics like Umberto D., Miracle in Milan or Bicycle thief, the director Vittorio De Sica trusted Belmondo to give life to a young idealist who wanted to be a partisan: Michele Di Libero in Two women. A role that, without renouncing its inborn rebellion, brought out the most candid and least hostile side of the actor. Sophia Loren would win the Oscar for best actress for her role as Cesira in this film, and Belmondo would begin to be known in the French-speaking market with the colloquial nickname of Bébel. Two women, is the tremendous adaptation of the novel by Alberto Moravia The peasant.
A priest in ‘Léon Morin, priest’ (1961)
Shortly after stepping into the shoes of a partisan idealist, Belmondo first performed for the great Jean-Pierre Melville. I would do it again two more times in The confidant (1962) and The bodyguard (1963), but his best performance would be born from the least not to go of his collaborations, giving life to the intelligent priest protagonist of Léon Morin, priest.
The premise: a young widow, a communist militant and a confessed atheist, decides to enter a church to be able to say everything she has to say inside a confessional. But when the priest who puts the ear does not react as she expects, a unique chemistry will be born between the two.
Tintin’s replacement in ‘The Man from Rio’ (1964)
Already a world-famous star, Belmondo starred in some action film attempts before The man from Rio, but it was this Philippe de Broca film that confirmed him as an incredible actor of the physical. An interpreter capable of indulging in action and adventure without losing an iota of charm, without a certain loss of bon vivant overshadow crystalline good intentions.
His role as Private Adrien Dufourquet in The man from Rio, was essential to establish him in the industry as a solvent face of commercial cinema, which would later be lavished in the seventies with films such as Panic in the city (1975), The hunter of men (1976) or The animal (1977). The actor plays a kind of soldier, inspired by Hergé’s Tintin, who in what was to be a peaceful week of leave must recover a stolen statuette of Amazonian origin and save his girlfriend and a scientist. The man from Rio It’s one of Steven Spielberg’s favorite movies according to himself has declared.
A crazy lover in ‘Crazy Pierrot’ (1965)
Bébel would return to collaborate with Godard after At the end of the getaway (and the short film Charlotte et son Jules) in a feverish and unclassifiable film, another landmark of the nouvelle vague to which the Cannes festival dedicated its edition in 2018.
On Pierrot the crazy He plays a middle-aged man who leaves his family to run away with his children’s nanny, only she (the mythical Anna Karina) is being chased by the Algerian mafia. “His absolute lack of rhetoric, radically opposed to the interpretation to the use in the cinema of qualite, make him the best male image on the new screen “, the aforementioned Javier Memba would write about this performance.
A wealthy landowner in ‘The Mississippi Mermaid’ (1969)
Jean-Paul Belmondo’s first and only collaboration with another heavyweight from the nouvelle vague, François Truffaut, arrived in the late sixties. The Mississippi Mermaid was the second adaptation of a Cornell Woolrich novel directed by Truffaut, after the magnificent The bride wore black; which by the way would inspire Tarantino to Kill bill.
In this film, Belmondo plays a landowner, owner of a tobacco farm, in love with a woman (Catherine Deneuve) with whom he has had an epistolary relationship. Lucky for an exotic version, and somewhat less dispassionate, of its interpretation in Pierrot the crazy that confirmed how sex symbol of a generation.
Another thief in ‘Borsalino’ (1970)
And as if a kind of circle were closing, Belmondo said goodbye to his golden decade with the interpretation of another petty thief, this time one very different from the one he had given life in At the end of the getaway. We talk about François Capella in Borsalino, a film that gave way to another stage, in which the actor would chain blockbusters already far from filmmakers like Truffaut or Godard.
On Borsalino, Bebel saw them and wished them with another golden face of the French firmament, Alain Delon, with whom he had his encounters. But it confirmed him as a safe value at the box office thanks to an enviable presence –famous her sexy exit from the water with Delon– and made this Deray film one of the cult films of the decade.