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Belmondo, from the Nouvelle Vague to the detective stories to the Italian comedy

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An extraordinarily versatile actor with a disruptive physicality, so much so that he was called ‘the most fascinating ugly of French cinema’, Jean-Paul Belmondo, who died today in Paris at the age of 88, had played practically all the roles, from the Nouvelle Vague with Godard, Sautet and Truffaut, from crime films to Italian comedy. Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine on 9 April 1933, he was the son of Paul Belmondo, an Italian-born sculptor who holds a professorship at the Academy of Fine Arts. His film debut comes in 1956, after graduating from the Conservatory National Dramatic Art and some theater performances in Molière’s ‘Avaro’ and Rostand’s ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’. Fame and popularity arrived immediately, thanks to films such as Claude Chabrol’s ‘A double mandate’ from 1959 and above all ‘La ciociara’ by Vittorio De Sica, starring Sophia Loren. The consecration at national and international level, however, owes it to the film ‘Up to the last breath’ of 1960, where it is directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Belmondo also works with Claude Sautet in ‘Asfalto che scotta’ where alongside Lino Ventura he shows off his skills as a dramatic actor. The Sixties represented a golden decade for the French actor who in those years was in films like ‘ Leon Morin prete ‘of 1961 and’ Lo spione ‘of 1962, both directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Also in Italy Belmondo gains fame and popularity: it happens with ‘Mare matto’, an Italian comedy of 1963 by Renato Castellani in which he lends his face to a sailor from Livorno who falls in love with a boarder (played by Gina Lollobrigida). A film that showcases Belmondo’s physical and interpretative skills, however the actor, after gaining popularity and wealth, decides to turn to more commercial films. And so, after ‘Robbery in the sun’ of 1965, ‘An adventurer in Tahiti’ and ‘The thief of Paris’ arrive. But in 1974 he returned to auteur cinema with ‘Stavisky the great swindler’, directed by Alain Resnais. Precisely in the seventies, Belmondo threw himself into the detective genre, making himself known for his participation in dangerous scenes without resorting to stunts. In the Eighties, a slight decline began in the cinematographic field: negligible films such as ‘Profession: policeman’ of 1983 and ‘Tender and violent’ of 1987 alternate with theatrical comedies. The last blow of the tail of the Belmondo lion, however, came in 1989, with the Cesar Award as best actor in the film by Claude Lelouch ‘A life is not enough’. In 2001 a cerebral ischemia hit him keeping him away from the big screen until 2008, when he returned to star in the French remake of ‘Umberto D.’. In 2011 he received the Palme d’Or for Lifetime Achievement at the Cannes Film Festival and in 2016 the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Film Festival.

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