American film critic Roger Ebert said that ‘Modern movies begin … with Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless’, and its lead actor, Jean-Paul Belmondo, had a lot to do with that. Belmondo’s Michel, eternally with a cigarette in his mouth, at once satirised and epitomised the brooding American hero, a performance that seamlessly blended slapstick comedy and tragic naivety seamlessly. Belmondo was a one-of-a-kind performer, and the Alliance Française Film Festival intends to show audiences why, with a retrospective of some of his best work.
Peruse the Plus Ones’ guide to three of the films on offer at the festival.
Famous for his refusal to stick with one visual style, director Alain Renais directs Belmondo as Alexandre Stavisky, a man whose personal charm and lack of conscience has secured him a large fortune in France 1930s, despite the fragile economy at the time.
Belmondo shows Stavisky’s greasy charm, playing a man deeply insecure who wants people to respect him, yet is unsure how to honestly obtain that respect. The film was very well received by critics when it was released, and remains to be one of the great works of two French masters.
Revisit the infamous beach of Dunkirk during World War II, during which a large group of soldiers were left stranded with little hope of rescue from British forces. Nolan’s box office and critical smash Dunkirk hit has reinvigorated the event as a being worthy of cinema, now see Henri Verneuil’s classic that did it first.
Belmondo stars as Julien Maillat, a soldier stuck on the beaches whose experiences are based on Professor Robert Merle’s, a soldier himself who wrote a novel chronicling his experiences on that beach. This film shows Belmondo’s versatility as an actor and stands as an important cinematic documentation of an event otherwise hardly seen in movies at that point.
Director Jean-Pierre Melville made a string of exciting films in the 50s and 60s that brought a sense of adventure to French cinema, as well as introducing noir to the New Wave and earning the esteem of shared by directors like Jean-Luc Godard.
Doulos sees Belmondo as a slippery police informer who fingered his friend Maurice Faugel (Serge Reggiani) causing his friend to land in jail. Their rivalry leads them through whiskey dive bars, seedy nightclubs and all the places you’d expect to find the kind of character Belmondo excelled at playing.
Jean Paul Belmondo is synonymous with legendary French Cinema. Celebrate his legacy with this loving retrospective from the film society who reveres great cinema and wants its audience to experience wonderful films the way they were originally seen.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.
All of the films will be screened in their original languages with English subtitles.