Jean-Paul Belmondo, a New Wave film star who made his debut with Jean-Luc Godard’s A bout de souffle (Breathless) in 1959, has died. He was 88 years old.
The loss of a major character in French cinema was mourned throughout the country. France had lost a “national treasure,” according to President Emmanuel Macron.
“It appears to me that every one of France is sad,” Michel Godest, Belmondo’s friend and lawyer, sobbed on BFM TV.
Jean-Paul Belmondo, a dynamic actor who frequently executed his own actions, transitioned to the modern cinema in the 1960s and became one of France’s top comedy and action heroes.
His choice to seek a life in the commercial film rather than the art houses drew accusations that he had squandered his undeniable ability, which he always refuted.
“When an actor becomes popular, people turn their backs on him and say that he has chosen the easy way out, that he does not want to put in any work or take any risks,” Belmondo once stated.
“But if it were so easy to fill theatres, the film industry would be in much better shape than it is. I don’t think I’d have been in the spotlight for so long if I’d been doing something stupid. People aren’t that dim.”
Belmondo died at home, according to Godest, who added, “He had been quite wary for some time.” He passed away peacefully.”
Jean-Paul Belmondo was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine on April 9, 1933, the son of sculptor Paul Belmondo and painter Sarah Rainaud-Richard. Despite his cultural upbringing, he seemed more inclined to sports than the arts, and he was a good fighter in his childhood.
After discovering acting, it took three attempts until the Paris Conservatory decided to accept him as a student in 1952. Even then, it was not an easy road, and Jean-Paul Belmondo left in a huff in 1956 after getting a cold reaction from a conservatory panel for one of his performances.
At the time, one of his professors prophesied, “Mr. Belmondo will never succeed with his hooligan’s face.”
Jean-Paul Belmondo’s response was a vulgar gesture. Over the following half-century, he appeared in more than 80 films, several of which were box office smashes.
Belmondo rose to prominence after appearing in Sois belle et tais-toi (Look Pretty and Shut Up) in 1958 and A Double Tour by Claude Chabrol in 1959, when his charisma dominated the show.
But his role as a small-time hood who romanced American ingenue Jean Seberg in Godard’s Breathless earned him international stardom.
Jean-Paul Belmondo appeal, a mixture of cynicism and sensitivity, warmth, and unselfconscious ease created a new kind of romanticism that brought him roles in the films of France’s New Wave directors Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, and Louis Malle.
“If I have any advice to give young actors, it is to never neglect technique: without technique, you limit the invention. But it should never show. What counts is the result, not the sweat and the pain it cost,” he once said.