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Screen Icons: Jean-Paul Belmondo (Preview)

Jean-Paul Belmondo DVD

Preview by Jack Foley

A KEY face of the French New Wave and one of France’s most famous actors, Jean-Paul Belmondo was born in 1933 in Neuilly-sur Seine.

As a youth Belmondo trained as a boxer before deciding that his future lay in acting. After a number of attempts, he finally gained admittance to the Paris Conservatoire in 1952.

Making the transition from stage to screen in the mid-fifties, Belmondo notched up impressive early credits, including Les Copains du Dimanche (1957) and his first co-starring role with fellow French idol Alain Delon in Sois Belle et Tais-Toi.

After turning in a restrained performance in Chabrol’s Á Double Tour, Belmondo forever seared himself onto the consciousness of critics, public and filmmakers alike in Godard’s A Bout De Souffle.

With his inimitable, roguish smile, unique looks, and witty yet moody performance as doomed thief and Bogart aficionado Michel Poiccard, Belmondo perfectly embodied the cool youthful rebellion guiding Godard’s trailblazing cinematic style.

Re-united with Godard on numerous occasions, most notably perhaps on the similarly audacious romance-musical-gangster-road movie Pierrot Le Fou, the other director with whom Belmondo is perhaps most closely associated is noir master, Jean Pierre Melville (Le Doulos).

Continuing to test himself with challenging roles and working with Europe’s finest filmmakers throughout the 1960s and early 70s (with Alain Resnais’ complex quaisi-historical drama Stavisky being a particular highlight), Belmondo also managed to segue into more commercial fare and entertaining genre pictures that emphasized a lean physique and charismatic loner persona.

A hard-edged action thriller, Le Professional is a perfect and popular example of this strand of Belmondo’s career.

After an amazing film career spanning 30 years (receiving a Cesar in 1989 for his performance in Itinéraire D’un Enfant Gaté), Jean-Paul Belmondo remains one of the most popular and best-loved personalities in France and he has received France’s highest accolade, the Legion of Honour.

As part of the Screen Icons series, Optimum World is releasing a Jean-Paul Belmondo box set collection, featuring the following films…

A DOUBLE TOUR (1959)

The third film from Claude Chabrol and his first in colour, Á Double Tour is both a characteristically suspenseful thriller and a cruel portrait of bourgeois life. Henri Marcoux (Jacques Dacqmine), a respectable middle-class man living in Province with his wife and two children, is having an affair with a younger woman, Léda (Antonella Lualdi).

His wife, the redoubtable Thérèse Marcoux (Madeleine Robinson), is determined to avoid a scandal at any price, even to the extent of breaking off her daughter’s engagement when she learns that her future son-in-law Laszlo (Belmondo) has been sympathising with her husband. Then the unthinkable happens – Léda is found dead. But who is the killer?

Taking the part of Laszlo Kovacs after first choice Jean-Claude Brialy fell ill, Belmondo gives an impressively restrained performance that in conjunction with his following film, A Bout De Souffle, set him on the road to stardom.

Cert: TBC
Feature Running Time: 94 mins approx
Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Mono
Colour/PAL
French with English subtitles

A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (1959)

Stylish and sexy, Breathless [A Bout De Souffle] is the epitome of cinematic cool. A fast tale of a young man on the run in Paris at the end of the 50’s, Breathless shook up the film world upon its release and has made a lasting impression on cinema history.

Starring Jean Paul Belmondo, the film was produced by Godard from an original treatment by François Truffaut in a production that united the four initiators of the ‘nouvelle Vague’ – Claude Chabrol acted as artistic director while acclaimed director Jean Pierre Melville appeared in front of camera.

EXTRAS: Charlotte Et Son Jules Short film by Jean-Luc Godard / Trailer / Posters / Stills

Cert: 15
Feature Running Time: 90 mins approx
Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.31:1
Mono
B&W/PAL
French with English subtitles

PIERROT LE FOU (1965)

Based on Lionel White’s novel Obsession, Pierrot Le Fou is the story of a bored husband who runs away from Paris to the South of France with an unpredictable but beguiling young babysitter (Anna Karina) after a corpse is found in her flat.

After an idyllic time at the seaside they hit the road once more and get by from stealing, soon becoming embroiled in the machinations of two rival gun-running gangs and a man who may or may not be the girl’s brother.

Belmondo was nominated for a BAFTA for his perfomance in this tragic tale of a romantic couple who cannot escape fate no matter how far they flee.

EXTRAS: Commentary by Jean-Bernard Pouy / Trailer / Posters & DVD sleeves / German TV spot / Press kit / Introduction by Colin MacCabe, author of the book Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy

Cert: TBC
Running time: 105 mins approx
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Colour/PAL
Mono
English / French language with English subtitles

STAVISKY (1974)

Widely regarded as one of Alan Resnais’ (Last Year In Marienbad) finest films, Stavisky attempts to shed some light on the eponymous, enigmatic and yet comparatively unknown Russian émigré who scandalised France.

Stavisky (brilliantly portrayed by Belmondo) built an empire through a combination of subterfuge, fraud and false identity, becoming, as the more respectably titled Serge Alexandre, one of the most influential and powerful men in France in the period between the wars.

As the investigations of Inspector Bonny (Claude Rich) reveal, Stavisky’s life was the perfect sham, which took in businessmen, financiers and politicians of all persuasions. Stavisky’s score is courtesy of Stephen Sondheim.

Cert: tbc
Feature Running Time: 113 mins approx
Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Mono
Colour PAL
French with English subtitles

LE PROFESSIONNEL (1981)

A hard-edged action thriller boasting a haunting Ennio Morricone score, Le Professionnel proved enormously successful on release in France, where it was seen by some 5.2 million people.

Secret agent Joss Beaumont (Belmondo) is sent to Malawi to assassinate President N’Nala (Sidiki Bakaba). At the last moment, the French authorities make a change of policy and betray Beaumont to the Malawi government.

After two years in captivity, Beaumont escapes from the African state and returns to Paris to enact his revenge. Tautly scripted by Michel Audiard and including a bold political subtext, Le Professionnel provided Belmondo with one of his most familiar roles, making excellent use of his physique and solitary persona.

Cert: tbc
Feature Running Time: 104 mins approx
Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Mono
Colour/PAL
French with English subtitles