French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo is to be honoured with a special evening at Cannes 2011, Cineuropa reported Thursday. The event will take place on Wednesday, May 17 and will include a red carpet appearance, the premiere of Vincent Perrot and Jeff Domenech upcoming documentary on the star, Belmondo, The Career, and is to be followed by a dinner and a party.
If filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Eric Rohmer were the men behind the French New Wave, Belmondo was for many its leading male, alongside Jean-Pierre Léaud and opposite Anna Karina.
It’s his turn as Michel Poiccard in the same director’s 1960 debut feature Breathless (À bout de souffle), though, that has perhaps endured most favourably. Between Godard’s much noted jump-cuts and Raoul Coutard’s casual, roaming camera, Belmondo brought to the film a gravitas that oozed both charisma and, opposite femme fatale Jean Seberg, youthful naivety.
Opening the filming by reading an American comic strip, before stealing a car and driving to Paris to find his lover Patricia Franchini (Seberg) selling the New York Herald Tribune on the Champs-Élyssées, there is an impatience and energy in Belmondo’s performance that would become a part of his lasting appeal.
Consciously mirroring himself on Bogart in The Harder They Fall, Belmondo’s Michel Poiccard is a tongue-in-cheek throwback to the Hollywood gangster (the film is dedicated to Monogram Pictures, the studio noted for its output of low-budgeted gangster movies). Belmondo, particularly in his scenes with Seberg – later homaged by Tarantino in Pulp Fiction – lends the character a naturalism that resists caricature, even in the protacted death run at the film’s close, which playfully channels Cagney.
Breathless was scripted by Godard and based on an original story by Truffaut, and remains characteristic of both filmmakers’ earlier works; Jim McBride remade it in 1983 with Richard Gere in the Belmondo role, though it has inarguably been outlived by the earlier work.
After that film, Belmondo starred in two other features by Godard: first opposite Godard’s then-wife Anna Karina, in the 1961 musical A Woman is a Woman, and then in 1965’s Pierrot le fou, again with Karina. The actor also worked with several other heavyweights of the French New Wave: thrice with Jean-Pierre Melville, in 1961’s Leon Morin, Priest, 1962’s Le Doulos and 1963’s Magnet of Doom; twice with Claude Chabrol, in 1959’s Leda and in 1972’s Dr. Popaul; and with François Truffaut, opposite Catherine Deneuve in 1969’s Mississippi Mermaid, with Agnès Varda in 1995’s A Hundred and One Nights, and with Alain Resnais in 1974’s Stavisky.
Belmondo will turn 78 on April 9 and features in Emmanuel Laurent’s recent documentary Two in the Wave (Deux de la Vague), which focuses on Godard and Truffaut’s working relationship.