Where to broadcast the best performances of Jean-Paul Belmondo

One word often comes up in reading Jean-Paul Belmondo: cool. The French actor, who died Monday at the age of 88 , never seemed to go t...


One word often comes up in reading Jean-Paul Belmondo: cool. The French actor, who died Monday at the age of 88, never seemed to go to great lengths, bringing effortless nonchalance to all of her roles. Belmondo didn’t look like a typical prominent man – the New York Times described him as “Hypnotically ugly” in 1961 – but it had the charm and carefree flippancy that the French call “flippancy.”

This artist son had a taste for boxing and quickly avoided being cataloged – he appeared in a noble literary adaptation one minute, performed his own stunts in a fiery frolic the next. During the 1960s and early 1970s, he alternated between arthouse productions and commercial quality productions, and then focused squarely on the latter, which could explain his often conflicting relationship with the French film establishment. When his interpretation in “The Route of a Spoiled Child” by Claude Lelouch earned him a nomination for best actor at the 1989 César, for example, he encouraged voters not to choose him; he still won and did not attend the ceremony.

Fortunately, a representative sample of Belmondo’s films is available for streaming. Here are 10, in chronological order.

This film, released in the United States in 1961, launched the careers of Belmondo and director Jean-Luc Godard, and remains a Formally thrilling pop-black touchstone of the new French wave. Belmondo had a lower profile than his co-star, Jean Seberg, but his punk charisma burns the screen. A cigarette hanging permanently from his lips, he strolls with the insolence of youth, his carefree but focused energy matching the jazzy soundtrack and snapping his fingers. Many actors would have vanished beside the vibrant modernity of Godard’s cinema; Belmondo feeds on it.

Post it on TV; rent it or buy it on itunes.

For many years, Belmondo’s rival as a sexy male lead in France was Alain Delon, whose tight composure suited director Jean-Pierre Melville’s cerebral and elegant films perfectly. However, Belmondo’s collaboration with the master filmmaker was just as fruitful. “The Doulos,”From 1962, is Melville’s first big black, and Belmondo contains all the brutality in it. A slightly raised eyebrow, the quirk of a mouth almost make you want to sympathize with her Silien, but the threat is still there, the feeling that this guy could shoot you at any moment.

One of Belmondo’s frequent collaborators was Philippe de Broca, the witty and light filmmaker. In this 1964 success, his character travels to Brazil to save his kidnapped girlfriend. The combination of comedy, adventure and romance suits Belmondo perfectly, and wonderfully tangy Françoise Dorléac was among his best on-screen partners – their on-screen chemistry is wonderful to see.

You can double-bill it with the Wacky Hong Kong set by de Broca “Up to his ears”, set from 1965, in which the actor plays a suicidal millionaire who decides life is worth living when mysterious minions attempt to kill him. Ursula Andress, with whom Belmondo then began a relationship, plays an attractive ethnologist who earns small change as an exotic dancer. Ah, the 60s. …

Rent or buy on most major platforms.

In 1965, Godard gave Belmondo another superb role as an extraordinary man who escaped his thug life with Anna Karina (who wouldn’t?). This is one of Belmondo’s best performances because he reveals a poignant vulnerability, instead of hiding it behind assured assurance. In a charming scene, he and Karina are talking-singing while dancing, and the young man with the craggy face and squashed nose is pure poetry.

Post it on Amazon.

As the trailer for that 1969 film says, “suddenly you realize two things: you’re in love and you’re in danger.” Belmondo was cast against the guy as a man obsessed with – and manipulated by – an intriguing Catherine Deneuve in François Truffaut’s adaptation of a novel by William Irish. Alas, the film failed, perhaps because audiences weren’t ready to see Belmondo so blinded by passion that he came across as passive. “Mississippi Mermaid” was more subtle than that, and deserves to be rediscovered.

Rent it or buy it on Amazon and itunes.

Belmondo and Delon: the yin and the yang of French cinema, muscular heat versus icy distance. The duo had already appeared in “Is Paris Burning? in 1966, but they were only two in a whole bunch of big name international names. Four years later, they headlined a 1930s story as Marseille gangsters forging an alliance until death do part them. (Real life was more complicated, as Belmondo sued Delon over who would appear first in the credits.) Guided by genre craftsman Jacques Deray (“The swimming pool”), “Borsalino” endures thanks to its ridiculously charismatic leads, with Belmondo as the very definition of raffish.

Rent it or buy it on Amazon and Youtube.

Confusingly, this 1971 Broca film has different titles in English, including the awkward literal translation of “The Married Couple of Year Two” and the fairly descriptive “The Scoundrel” and “Swashbuckler” – guess who that describes? Regardless: this is a fine example of a certain genre of period entertainment, well done, which has long been popular in France. The film is a spirited and spirited wedding comedy set during the French Revolution, in which Belmondo and Marlène Jobert (Eva Green’s mother) prove their love by constantly bickering. Both are wonderfully comfortable in this register, and Belmondo can indulge in stunts too.

Post it on Kanopy.

On the surface, Belmondo plays typing – albeit a wealthy criminal rather than a vulgar – in this 1974 film based on the true story of Alexander Stavisky, a shady financier and con artist who became the linchpin of a huge scandal that shook France in 1934. But the role and the performance are not period biopics, because it is of the brain director Alain Resnais. “Stavisky…” emphasized mood rather than action (a fantastic score by Stephen Sondheim helped) and played with the timeline, but his idiosyncratic approach to the genre didn’t sell. Belmondo then turned his back on the artier fare and shamelessly devoted himself to selling as many tickets as possible.

Rent or buy on most major platforms.

In the late 1970s and mid-1980s, Belmondo dominated the French box office with a series of action films. Some of them had a comedic inclination, others were badass blacks. This Georges Lautner smash from 1981 belongs squarely to the second type, our star playing a secret agent in a leather jacket involved in a plot involving French interests in Africa. The best part of the movie is the face to face between Belmondo and his foil, terribly interpreted by Robert Hossein (the two have often worked together in the theater, with Hossein directing). Bonus: One of Ennio Morricone’s best scores of the 1980s.

Rent or buy on most major platforms.

Belmondo and Delon team up again for this 1998 comedy thriller in which Vanessa Paradis attempts to find out which of them is her father. (Does that mean anything to you?) Director Patrice Leconte (“Monsieur Hire”) likes to play with the images of his aging male stars: Belmondo goes from a moving convertible to a helicopter, for example. His face is an epic landscape of folds and furrows, he is simply irresistible as an outgoing and exuberant quick talker, and makes a meal of the most innocuous snatches of dialogue.

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