Jean-Louis Trintignant, French actor of powerful reserve, dies at 91

Placeholder while article actions load

Jean-Louis Trintignant, a French actor of understated magnetism who achieved international renown in the 1960s and 1970s playing a passionate race car driver in “A Man and a Woman”, an enigmatic prosecutor in “Z” and a closeted gay fascist assassin in “A Man and a Woman”. “The Conformist” died on June 17 at his home in the Gard region of southern France. He was 91 years old.

His wife Marianne confirmed his death to Agence France-Presse but did not provide a cause. In 2017, he revealed a cancer diagnosis.

In a career spanning seven decades and over 130 films, Trintignant was considered one of the most successful, if reluctant, European film stars of his generation. He was reserved, restless, and afraid of repeating himself in his work, and would sometimes threaten to withdraw from show business altogether.

His reputation rests on a handful of commercial successes and art house favorites: Costa-Gavras’s deliriously stylized “A Man and a Woman” (1966), the Oscar-winning political thriller “Z” (1969) by Costa-Gavras. Éric Rohmer the sexy romantic drama “My Night at Maud’s House” (1969) and the disturbing “O Conformista” by Bernardo Bertolucci (1970).

At 82, Trintignant came out of a 15-year retirement to give a masterful performance as a cultured Parisian caring for his crippled wife in “Amour” (2012), which won the Oscar for best foreign film as well as the top prize at the Festival. from Cannes. It was a signature Trintignant twist, featuring a character whose intellect and emotional reserve belies an inner torment.

“The best actors in the world,” he once said, “are those who feel the most and show the least.”

The aimless son of a prosperous industrialist, he said he started acting only as a way to overcome his shyness on the way to becoming a director. In his early filmography, the unimposing Mr. Trintignant, 1.80m, was often labeled a shy, innocent and powerless person, facing forces he didn’t understand or control.

He caught the attention of viewers in Roger Vadim’s “And God Created Woman” (1956), a showcase for Brigitte Bardot’s free sexuality. He played her solemn husband, who sees his manly brother gain his attention. Off-screen, the two co-stars embarked on a torrid affair that ended their marriages, Bardot’s to Vadim and Trintignant’s to actress Stéphane Audran.

A series of bland roles followed – highlights were his roles in “The Easy Life” (1962) and “The Success” (1963), Italian comedies in which Trintignant’s bland, rigidly moralistic personality contrasted with his violent charisma. by Vittorio Gassman. The films were critical and popular successes that put Trintignant on the front row of European cinema.

As a cinematic presence, he carried none of the overt sexual mystique of other French stars of the time – the malice of Jean-Paul Belmondo, the beauty of Alain Delon, the world-weariness of Yves Montand. The trademark of Mr. Trintignant was a pleasant, superficial banality that masked the depths of strength or despair.

“He emphasized his mediocrity, turned his apparent lack of definition into a strange kind of strength,” wrote film critic Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. “In movie after movie, he presents himself as such a normal man that you have to wonder if something is going on beneath that opaque surface. And then, slowly, meticulously, he unwraps the package and shows what’s inside. He always seems cautious and vigilant, waiting for the moment when he can (or should) reveal himself.”

He cemented his popularity in “A Man and a Woman,” co-starring with Anouk Aimée as widowed lovers. They begin an almost wordless affair against the backdrop of sunset beach walks and conversations filmed through fog-drenched windshields.

The drama, with an instantly canonized samba score by Francis Lai, won the Oscar for best foreign film and was a box office sensation. Mr. Trintignant, an amateur racing driver and nephew of two-time Monaco Grand Prix winner Maurice Trintignant, has made his own on-screen races.

In “Z”, Trintignant was a seemingly impartial and colorless prosecutor conducting an official investigation into the murder of an opposition leader by military order. His horn-rimmed glasses, well-worn suit and cipher-like personality suggest a bureaucrat going through the motions, but his unyielding determination and political savvy gradually emerge.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and Trintignant’s performance won him the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival. “It suited me very well”, recalled the actor about the character, “someone very contained, very shy, but who knows exactly what he wants, and I’m a bit like him; in the end, out of sheer obstinacy, I always get what I want.”

In “The Conformist,” he played a sexually confused political opportunist in 1930s Italy who finds relief in fascism and agrees to become an assassin for the Mussolini regime.

Later, Trintignant wrote in her memoir that her mother and young daughter, Pauline, died during filming. “Perhaps it is horrible to say this,” he observed, “but at such moments the sensitivity becomes extraordinarily acute. And Bertolucci, who was very close to me, made use of my pain.”

New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael praised Trintignant for “an almost incredible intuitive grasp of screen presence; her face is never too full of emotion, never completely empty.” Comparing him to Humphrey Bogart, Kael added, “He has Bogart’s grinning, wide-eyed reflexes – cynicism and humor erupt into savagery.”

Jean-Louis Xavier Trintignant was born in Piolenc, a village in the south of France, on December 11, 1930, and grew up near Pont-Saint-Esprit and Aix-en-Provence. Rebelling against his parents’ wishes, he dropped out of law school and soon began acting in Paris. He won rave reviews for his work on stage in demanding roles such as Hamlet as he embarked on an eventful film career.

He appeared in experimental films directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet, best known for his avant-garde literature. Trintignant was also Simone Signoret’s young lover in “Murders in the Sleeping Car” (1965), Costa-Gavras’s acclaimed directorial debut, and played a Catholic broken up by a chaste encounter with a divorcee in “My Night at Maud’s House.” .

He played an aloof playboy in a ménage à trois with two lesbians in “The Does” (1968), a melancholy psychodrama set in Saint-Tropez, France. One of the women was played by Audran, who at the time was married to the film’s director, Claude Chabrol.

Trintignant had a big hit with “For No Apparent Reason” (1971), as a detective on the French Riviera. In “Other People’s Money” (1978), the film that won the French equivalent of the Oscar for best picture, he was a bank executive involved in a financial scandal. In 1983, he starred with Fanny Ardant in filmmaker François Truffaut’s end credit, the lukewarm mystery comedy “Confidentially Yours,” and had a small role in Nick Nolte’s “Under Fire,” as an obscure Frenchman on the payroll of CIA in Dictator. Nicaragua by Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

Trintignant and Aimée got together for Lelouch’s ill-fated update, “A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later” (1986), but he did better in “Three Colors: Red” (1994), the last and most highly regarded film in the world. director. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy about shifting fate. Mr. Trintignant played a prickly, reclusive ex-judge who spies on his neighbors but is also capable of unexpected tenderness.

As Trintignant’s career slowed, he spent more time at his medieval estate near Uzès in southern France, hunting mushrooms and riding his motorcycle. His second marriage, to filmmaker Nadine Marquand, ended in divorce, and in 2000 he married professional pilot Marianne Hoepfner, his companion for decades.

Three years later, he sank into depression after a daughter from his second marriage, actress Marie Trintignant, died of injuries sustained in a beating by her lover, French rock star Bertrand Cantat, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

In addition to his wife, survivors include a son from his second marriage, Vincent Trintignant.

Mr. Trintignant was still reeling from the loss of his daughter when the script for “Amour” was offered. He told reporters that he almost turned it down because he found it too depressing and that he was “in a very dark period of my life”, even thinking about suicide.

Producer Margaret Ménégoz convinced him to take the role by joking that she would help him in the act if he delayed until filming was over. When filming was completed, Trintignant recalled to the Los Angeles Times, Ménégoz asked him, “Okay, how are we going to do this?”

“Well,” he replied, “let’s wait a little.”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: