Jean-Paul Belmondo’s most famous scene goes like this: He is betrayed by his girlfriend (Jean Seberg) Shot by the police and collapses. Lying on the floor, he still smokes a cigarette and wears sunglasses. With the last of his strength he pushes “It’s disgusting!“and strokes his own eyes. This is the end of the gangster classic Out of Breath – and a picture for the history books.
Belmondo passed away on September 6, 2021. But anyone who sees it as just a great figurehead of French cinema is wrong: The great architects of today’s Hollywood, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino, Belmondo’s inimitable charm owes their best characters.
Jean-Paul Belmondo went from being a gangster poet to a Stallone of France
Like no other actor, Belmondo was the face of the Nouvelle Vague (Eng. “New Wave”) of French cinema in the early 1960s. Angry young filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard threw conventions out of the cinema window rely on amateur actors, hectic energy and dirty stories from the street.
Belmondo and Jean Seberg out of breath
Belmondo fit in perfectly: he came from a family of artists and wanted to be a theater actor, but he also loved boxing and ended his stage career with one Finger fingers to his professors (via The New Yorker ). He loved art and hated idiocy: an explosive device on character.
And he could make it shine in Godard’s out of breath. He played his crook Michel like many of his later roles: casually in a suit and hat like his great role model Humphrey Bogart, but also hot and quick-tempered and spontaneous like a child. Unlike Bogart, he doesn’t know what is really being played. But it is also sausage to him.
That was exactly what was unique about the charm he put into such roles: his heroes were absolutely fallible, no Western statues like John Wayne or walking steam engines like Schwarzenegger later. Despite all the coolness, Belmondo’s roles are somehow also idiots, because they don’t want to have a clue. That makes them indestructible. They’re not Bogart, they’re Bogart fans, and they don’t care about anything else.
Belmondo as a priest in Eve and the priest
The resounding success of Out of Breath quickly made Belmondo very well known: In the following five years he made a total of 28 films that demonstrated immense versatility as an actor: In 1961 he was still seen as a deeply human clergyman (Eve and the Priest) he played in The devil in the white vest by Jean-Pierre Melville maybe his coolest role as a die-hard trench coat gangster with a code of honor and a gun.
In the 70s and 80s, however, he swapped the intellectual highs of the young French cinema for more commercial roles. As one of the greatest actors in France, he created a profile for himself with films such as Der Greifer and Der Profi Brute action hero à la Stallone to. The wicked charm of Belmondo passed over to the police veterans and mercenaries just as it did to the Parisian gangsters.
Belmondo’s influence ranges from Indiana Jones to Tarantino’s gangsters
As a gangster in The Devil with the White Waistcoat
But regardless of whether the street boys of the 60s, the leather jacket cops of the 80s or the quiet heroes of his late work: Belmondo had left a lasting impression on film history with his roles – and on a group of young Hollywood revolutionaries.
American filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola have also wanted to bring new wind to the dusty cinemas of their home country since the early 1970s. In doing so, they willingly resorted to the French cinema revolution, of which Belmondo had long been the face.
So it happens, for example, that Belmondo’s adventure flick Adventure in Rio Spielberg and George Lucas provided the blueprint for Indiana Jones (via Variety). Belmondo’s hunt halfway around the world is not unlike Indy’s search for artifacts. Harrison Ford also carries the traits between macho and idiot, which mark his French role model.
One of his most famous action roles: Belmondo in Der Profi
In particular, it was Belmondo’s gangster roles that exerted an incomparable influence on Hollywood: The prime example The Devil in the White Waistcoat was loud Martin Scorsese made a significant contribution to The Irishman and is one of his favorite gangster films (via FarOutMagazine ).
Even a generation later, this effect has not evaporated: Quentin Tarantino called The Devil in the White Vest his favorite script of all time and a great source of inspiration for Reservoir Dogs. About Belmondo himself, he said (via Variety ):
Even his name isn’t just a movie star’s name or a man’s name. It’s a verb. A verb that stands for vitality, charisma, willpower. It stands for super coolness. […] Just like him in Out of Breath [mit einem Bild von Humphrey Bogart] made: We stare at the poster and wish we were him.
And from there, Belmondo’s influence carried on into film history. In the loose slogans of Iron Man or the toothpick aesthetic of Drive, there is always a place where Belmondo is infected in the background.
What is your favorite Jean-Paul Belmondo film?