Close Up

16 - 31 October 2021: A Tribute to Jean-Paul Belmondo


Belmondo – nicknamed Bébel by French audiences – became one of the country’s biggest box-office stars in the 60s and 70s, his battered-looking face a contrast to the chiselled features of his rival and sometime-collaborator Alain Delon. Like Delon, Belmondo was a key figure of the outstanding generation of European film-making of the period. We pay tribute to the French New Wave icon Jean-Paul Belmondo with 6 of some of his finest roles of the 50s and 60s.


Jean-Luc Godard, 1959, 90 min
French with English Subtitles

"One of the most important films to emerge from the French New Wave, Breathless is set in the fifties, when the influence of American culture in France was being felt at every level of life. Godard presents a story of boy-meets-girl animated by myths of innocence abroad and of the alienated gangster of B-movies. Belmondo’s interpretation of an anarchic criminal – confused, bitter, and cynical – was his first major role and launched his career. Godard conceived of Jean Seberg’s character as a direct continuation of the pampered but worldly creature she played in Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse. Describing the impact of the film after forty years, critic Phillip Lopate summarizes: "It seemed a new kind of storytelling, with its saucy jump cuts, digressions, quotes, in jokes and addresses to the viewer. And yet, underneath all these brash interventions was a Mozartean melancholy that strongly suggested classical measure."" – Harvard Film Archive


Seven Days… Seven Nights
Peter Brook, 1960, 91 min
French with English subtitles

“Moderate and songlike” – a musical tempo, but also an apt descriptor of this moody, deliberate drama co-scripted by Duras from her novel. Jeanne Moreau won Best Actress at Cannes for her haunting portrayal of a wife and mother whose husband is the chief employer of their steel town near Bordeaux. Her life consists of little more than shuttling their son to piano lessons, until one day, mid-sonata, she hears a scream. Before long she’s conducting a murder investigation with one of her husband’s workers (Jean-Paul Belmondo), unleashing her own morbid impulses and perhaps a private death wish. Theatre giant Peter Brook’s restrained direction casts rare moments of intensity in relief, and Armand Thirard’s crisp cinematography conveys the desolation of life in a windswept town where “summer never comes.” – Film at Lincoln Center


A Woman Is a Woman
Jean-Luc Godard, 1961, 84 min
French with English subtitles

With A Woman Is a Woman, Jean-Luc Godard presents "a neorealist musical – that is, a contradiction in terms." A Woman Is a Woman is a sly, playful tribute to – and interrogation of – the American musical comedy, showcasing Godard’s signature wit and intellectual acumen. The film tells the story of exotic dancer Angéla (Anna Karina) as she attempts to have a child with her unwilling lover Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy). In the process, she finds herself torn between him and his best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo). A dizzying compendium of colour, humour, and the music of renowned composer Michel Legrand, A Woman Is a Woman finds the young Godard at his warmest and most accessible, revelling in and scrutinizing the mechanics of his great obsession: the cinema.


Léon Morin, Priest
Jean-Pierre Melville, 1961, 117 min
French with English subtitles

Jean-Paul Belmondo delivers a subtly sensual performance in the hot-under-the-collar Léon Morin, Priest, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. The French superstar plays a devoted man of the cloth who is desired by all the women of a small village in Nazi-occupied France. He finds himself most drawn to a sexually frustrated widow – played by Emmanuelle Riva – a religious sceptic whose relationship with her confessor turns into a confrontation with both God and her own repressed desire. A triumph of mood, setting, and innuendo, Léon Morin, Priest is an irreverent pleasure from one of French cinema’s towering virtuosos.


Le doulos
Jean-Pierre Melville, 1962, 109 min
French with English subtitles

The backstabbing criminals in the shadowy underworld of Jean-Pierre Melville's Le doulos have only one guiding principle: “Lie or die.” A stone-faced Jean-Paul Belmondo stars as enigmatic gangster Silien, who may or may not be responsible for squealing on Faugel (Serge Reggiani), just released from the slammer and already involved in what should have been a simple heist. By the end of this brutal, twisting, and multilayered policier, who will be left to trust? Shot and edited with Melville’s trademark cool and featuring masterfully stylized dialogue and performances, Le doulos (slang for "informant") is one of the filmmaker’s most gripping crime dramas.


Pierrot le fou
Jean-Luc Godard, 1965, 110 min
French with English subtitles

“In this stunning exploration of personal and global violence, Godard depicts the picaresque journey across France of a disaffected Everyman and his girlfriend, who become involved in criminal activities along the way. The film includes direct references to Angola, Vietnam, and South Africa as it employs a dramatic and symbolic use of color. The film’s abstracted directorial style is perhaps best explained by the director’s response to the question of why it contains so much blood: "It is not blood but red." The film also features brief appearances by director Sam Fuller and actor Jean-Pierre Léaud.” – Harvard Film Archive