best film:   Jean-Paul Belmondo is in three Jean-Luc Godard masterpieces, with Breathless – the first archiveable film for both (and debut for Godard) leading the way. Pierrot le Fou is a sonic boom of cinema style and is far closer in artistic quality to Breathless than most realize. These are the two best Godard films and certainly either one is more than worthy to be any actor’s best film. Belmondo just does not show up in these films either – he owns these movies (Breathless in particular) and the credit he deserves for one of the landmark films of the French New Wave is second only to Godard’s revolutionary creative coup here in terms of the film’s aesthetic success. The film changed cinema. The third masterpiece (all of these in the early 1960s of course) puts Belmondo much farther in the back seat as far as contribution is concerned; it is A Woman Is a Woman (1961) and Belmondo is on screen for virtually no time at all, quickly says Breathless is on tv tonight, and at one point he asks Jeanne Moreau (getting a drink randomly in the bar) how Jules and Jim is going (which does not come out until 1962 – the following year). For Belmondo and this category, the next tier down is not from Godard, François Truffaut, or Jean-Pierre Melville – but Italian master Vittorio De Sica in 1960 (same year as Breathless – quite a year for Belmondo) – Two Women.

 

best performance:  In Breathless, Belmondo broods, cracks jokes, talks to the audience, lies, kills. It does not feel like an acting performance. His charisma is undeniable – he is funny – and totally unpredictable. He is a loose cannon – changing how he acts and feels on a whim. This is one of cinema’s great characters and works by an actor. Pierrot is second place again in this category as well, this time Belmondo is paired with Anna Karina. They both give such an abundantly free performance.

 

Confidence is another factor when considering Breathless’ magnitude – from Godard’s airy, genre examination to Jean-Paul Belmondo’s swagger (his first archiveable film, 26 years old at the time of shooting). The film opens with Belmondo talking to the camera in the car by himself – reflexive – postmodern. Godard is constantly making the audience aware that they are watching a movie. He knows it, the audience knows it – and Belmondo’s Michel knows it.

 

stylistic innovations/traits:  Belmondo’s style is anything but trained and classical. He is raw, authentic – oozing that brash swagger. His characters are often playful and not brilliant (he struggles the few times he tries to play an intellectual). Truly, Belmondo is one of the key figures of the French New Wave. He, Godard, and Breathless are monumentally important to cinema. Belmondo is the 1960s as much as any actor. He only has nine (9) archiveable films but they are all that decade – most definitely constituting a great period of acting dominance. He is introduced (though this is not his debut) in Breathless in 1960, Pierrot le Fou is a tremendous mid-point in 1965 and second act and Mississippi Mermaid a fine cap to any run (and decade) in 1969. If he could have kept it up through the 1970s even a little, one would be talking about a top twenty (20) actor – but the what-if games could be played with virtually any actor. Anna Karina’s ridiculous run only lasted from 1961 to 1966 herself. This was just such a special time in world cinema – particularly in France of course.

 

the “hypnotically ugly” description of Belmondo by Bosley Crowther https://www.nytimes.com/1961/02/08/archives/screen-sordid-view-of-french-life-breathless-in-debut-at-the-fine.html . Belmondo excelled at playing bad boys and criminals (usually with a wink).  This is from Le Doulous here. The casting as an intellectual or priest presented problems for Belmondo.

 

directors worked with:  Jean-Luc Godard (3), Jean-Pierre Melville (2), Vittorio De Sica (1), François Truffaut (1)

 

piece of trivia – Godard actually used Jean-Pierre Léaud more often than Belmondo. Belmondo may have more overall screen time in his three (3) archiveable films but Leaud (best known for working with Truffaut of course) is in six (6) archiveable Godard films. Pierrot le Fou (pictured here) is Godard’s ninth archiveable film, fourth masterpiece, sixth film with wife (divorced in 1965) and muse Anna Karina, third film with Jean-Paul Belmondo. This is a major accomplishment for both Karina and Belmondo. It is a stretch to see Belmondo as an intellectual, but his confidence level on screen has few peers – such self assurance. Jack Nicholson would have it. Belmondo in the bar orders two beers “that way when I finish one, I’ll still have one left”- haha

 

top five performances:

  1. Breathless
  2. Pierrot le Fou
  3. Le Doulous
  4. Mississippi Mermaid
  5. That Man from Rio

 

That Man from Rio – it is Belmondo’s take on James Bond (there were a ton of imitators from the early 1960s on) and he is sensational here. He is absolutely charming and has the physicality and athleticism of more of a Daniel Craig type Bond . Belmondo is smirking like only he could through virtually every line and chase.

 

archiveable films

1960- Breathless
1960- Classe Tous Risques
1960- Two Women
1961- A Woman Is a Woman
1961- Leon Marin, Priest
1962- Le Doulos
1964- That Man from Rio
1965- Pierrot le Fou
1969- Mississippi Mermaid