Jean-Louis Trintignant: Melancholy and elegance

Recognizable voice among all, magnetic presence tinged with melancholy: the French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, who died Friday at the age of 91, led an immense career for half a century, punctuated by some 160 roles in theater and cinema, from “Et God…created woman” to “Love”.

Entered the history of cinema with “A man and a woman” by Claude Lelouch – Palme d’or at Cannes in 1966 – he won the interpretation prize at Cannes for “Z” by Costa Gravas in 1969 and the César for best actor for “Amour” by Michael Haneke in 2013. Three peaks in his career.

This perfectionist with elegant modesty was also a worried and reserved man who confided to having had suicidal temptations: “I admit that I have never been very cheerful”.

This pessimism accompanied him long before the death of his daughter Marie, with whom he maintained a great bond. She died in 2003 under the blows of her companion, the singer Bertrand Cantat. A few months earlier, the father and the daughter had performed Apollinaire’s “Poèmes à Lou” on stage as a duo.

This tragic death would not cease to haunt him: “I could have stopped my life at that moment”. Pushed by his relatives, he was back on stage, finding a “therapy” in poetry and theater. The boards, his “real job”, he told AFP. “We make movies a bit out of vanity”, “so as not to be shy anymore”.

Born on December 11, 1930 in Piolenc, in the south of France, this son of an industrialist, nephew of racing driver Maurice Trintignant, was brought up the hard way, with a sense of honesty that never left him. A shy young man giving the impression of always being somewhere else, he took Charles Dullin’s comedy lessons in Paris. He made his stage debut in 1951, in “Marie Stuart” by Schiller, and on the screen in “If All the Guys in the World”, by Christian-Jaque (1956). He toured the same year alongside Brigitte Bardot (“And God…created woman”, Roger Vadim). Her affair with BB is causing a lot of talk.

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Returning from traumatic military service in Algeria, the actor leaves with “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (Vadim). His nervous and sensitive playing seduces. With his composition of romantic lovers in “A man and a woman”, alongside Anouk Aimée, he becomes the actor who tours the most, like Belmondo and Delon.

In total, he will play in some 120 films… He has a predilection for ambiguous, impenetrable, disturbing characters. He is as comfortable in mainstream films (“Is Paris burning?”, René Clément) as in the avant-garde (“L’homme qui ment”, by Alain Robbe-Grillet, earned him the Silver Bear for best actor in Berlin) or political, like “Z”. He also toured Italy, notably in “Le Fanfaron” by Dino Risi and “Le Conformiste” by Bernardo Bertolucci.

Jean-Louis Trintignant himself directed two films, “A busy day” and “The lifeguard”, without much success.

In the 80s, this non-conformist refocused his career on the theater. This does not prevent him from turning some great roles in the cinema, in “Watch the men fall” or “Three colors: Red”, where he plays a taciturn former judge.

After the death of his daughter, he moved away from film sets for almost ten years, before coming back in force in 2012 in “Love”, in which he plays an octogenarian confronted with the slow agony of his wife. He then found Haneke for the role of a suicidal old bourgeois in “Happy End”, in competition at Cannes in 2017, the year he offered himself a last show of readings of poems by Prévert, Vian and Desnos at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, then on tour.

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Closing the loop, he found in 2019 the director Claude Lelouch and his partner Anouk Aimée for “The most beautiful years of a life”, following “A man and a woman” 53 years later. He had married the actress Stéphane Audran then the director Nadine Marquand (Trintignant) with whom he had three children, Marie, Pauline (died in infancy) and Vincent. Since their divorce, this motor racing enthusiast shared the life of racing driver Marianne Hoepfner.

Jean-Louis Trintignant had lived for thirty years near Uzès (Gard), not far from his beloved vines. “My Midi is a bit like me: austere, not very warm. Calm reigns and that suits me”.

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