Death of Jean-Paul Belmondo: the end of an era for French cinema?

With Jean-Paul Belmondo, who died on Monday, it is an era that is going away: that of a triumphant French cinema, electrified at the same time by the audacity of the New wave and by stars attracting to their name, the cigarette in the mouth, millions of fans in theaters.

Bébel was “heritage”: with his death, it is “an era of cinema that is disappearing, with which we all grew up – except for those under thirty”, emphasizes to AFP Guillaume Evin, author of the book Belmondo the book Toc Toc Badaboum, which comes out in early October.

“It was a time when cinema was magic! Actors were icons”, when they are now competing with “TV and platforms” streaming, adds Philippe Lombard, who devotes a book to Big mouths of French cinema. From this mythical and vintage period, most of the directors have disappeared. Georges Lautner, Philippe de Broca, Henri Verneuil, architects of Bébel’s greatest successes, have died over the past two decades. Claude Lelouch, the director ofItinerary of a spoiled child, is still there.

For cinema historian Patrick Brion, the carefree Belmondo symbolizes a time, that of the Thirty Glorious Years, after the war, “the end of a difficult period when we wanted to dream“, he explains to AFP. A bygone era, where the cinema occupied a central place.

Few of Bébel’s accomplices on screen are still alive. Aside from his alter ego, of course, the other last great star that millions of French people of the 1970s could identify with, Alain Delon. Belmondo, “it’s a part of my life”, said the latter, now the last old lion of the French cinema, after the death of his sidekick.

He and Belmondo reigned supreme over French cinema for at least two decades, succeeding Lino Ventura or Jean Gabin. As for actresses, Brigitte Bardot, 86, an international star who has symbolized cinema and France throughout the world, has long since slammed the door.

In the world, the disappearance of Belmondo also turns a page, so much he remained associated with the New wave, this movement of young directors (Truffaut, Godard ….) who wanted to wipe out a corseted French cinema, and whose wind of freedom has marked cinema around the world.

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The newspaper Variety, Hollywood bible, describes Belmondo “French icon of his generation” for his role in Breathless de Godard, and compares him to James Dean, Humphrey Bogart and Marlon Brando, also figures of a bygone era. Here again, the disappearance of Belmondo seems to close a chapter: the revolution of the New Wave is far away, even if its leader Jean-Luc Godard is, at 90, still revered and continues to produce unidentified film objects. .

On the performers’ side, two figures of this movement, but far from having acquired a popular aura comparable to the “myth” Bébel, are still there: Jean-Louis Trintignant (90 years old) and Jean-Pierre Léaud (77 years old), the Antoine Doinel de Truffaut.

The next generation certainly gave birth to Gérard Depardieu (72 years old), an actor with immense talent who has also been able to lead tragic roles and pure comedy at the same time, or to Catherine Deneuve, an icon in France and abroad. Careers that are difficult to imagine today, underlines Guillaume Evin: “There are no longer any dominant actors, directors with the auteur cinema stamp will choose their actors, directors with a larger audience will have others.”

“When you think of Belmondo, you hear him”, continues Patrick Brion, for whom it is lacking in French cinema today “great producers, screenwriters and dialogue writers” capable of giving specific “voices” to actors.

Many still cite a possible heir: Jean Dujardin, who himself considers Bébel as a model. Comic genius, charisma, ease, the actor knew how to embody irresistible characters (the parody spy of OSS 117) and made the link with the great tradition of cinema, in The Artist, Oscar for best film in 2012 and best actor. But he is still very far from pursuing a career comparable to his elder brother.

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