Friday, June 01, 2007

Au Revoir, Jean-Claude, 1933-2007

The death of the wonderful French actor, Jean-Claude Brialy, at age 74 on Wednesday in Paris is yet another reminder of how we're losing a little bit of the French film community every day.

It's been said that American stars aren't what they used to be - that, as Davis, Hepburn, Bogart, Fonda and Brando have passed on, there is no one who has truly replaced them. This sense of urgency and panic is even more acute in France.

I became aware of it when Jean Gabin died. That was the end of a great era in French filmmaking, I thought. Matters got more desperate when Yves Montand and Simone Signoret passed, but I was comforted by the fact that we still had relative newcomers Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve.

While someone like Patrick Deware died young, there was Isabelle Huppert, his contemporary, who has prevailed.

But each year, I become aware that few new French stars have emerged and when someone as valuable as Brialy passes, there's the feeling that something important is being lost. Depardieu and Deneuve are still active, Jeanne Moreau pops up occasionally, but Jean-Louis Trintignat hasn't sparkled in years.

And where is the unique and indispensible Bernadette Lafont? Michel Piccoli? I miss you, Delphine Seyrig! R.I.P.

No, the New Wave isn't new anymore. It isn't even old.

It doesn't even exist.

But, for now, let's reflect on its greatness, and Jean-Claude Brialy's place in it.

I suggest you rent Eric Rohmer's irresistible "Le genou de Claire" ("Claire's Knee"), Brialy's greatest triumph, and mourn what we have just lost.

(Artwork: Sincerely, Jean-Claude; Brialy as a bright, promising young actor; poster art for "Claire's Knee"/"Le genou de Claire")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


Daryl Chin said...

As with his compatriot Gerard Blain (his costar in Chabrol's "Le Beau Serge" and "Les Cousins" - essential works long missing in distribution), Brialy became a noted director in France, but none of his films have so far made it over here. (At the last Tribeca Film Festival, one of Blain's works - "The Pelican" - was shown.) Another note about Brialy: in the late 1950s, when a film he was appearing in was playing at the Cannes Film Festival, Brialy invited some of his friends to stay with him in his hotel room, so that they could all have a vacation. One of those friends was the young Alain Delon, and that was how Delon attracted the attention of film producers. But Brialy continued acting in films (there is a film now in post-production which was shot in January).

Isn't it funny how so much of the actual history of films has been forgotten? Chabrol's early films (especially "The Cousins") were big international successes, just as Philippe De Broca's early films ("The Game of Love", "The Joker" and "The Five Day Lover") made an impression. (The De Broca films starred Jean-Pierre Cassel, who also died recently; "The Joker" has one of Anouk Aimee's finest early performances - along with Demy's "Lola" - and "The Five Day Lover" has Jean Seberg in one of her loveliest performances.)

I haven't been able to see "Le Beau Serge", "The Cousins", "The Game of Love", "The Joker" and "The Five Day Lover" in decades, but they were crucial works in the New Wave. ("The Game of Love" would be reworked the next year by Jean-Luc Godard - he gives credit to the original screenplay of Genevieve Cluny and De Broca - as "A Woman Is a Woman", which starred Jean-Claude Brialy along with Anna Karina.)

Janine said...

Merci! I liked Brialy and I like the French film industry. I wish more got here. Someone else who died recently: Jean-Pierre Cassel, dad of Vincent Cassel. Yes, there's no one to replace them

Rebecca said...

Thanks to Daryl Chin for pointing out Brialy's other accomplishments. There was more to him than "Claire's Knee."