France stages rare national tribute to film icon Belmondo

·2-min read

Thousands turned out Thursday in Paris to honour Jean-Paul Belmondo, who helped define French identity for six decades, with President Emmanuel Macron offering an emotional farewell to the film icon who died this week aged 88.

France has been cast into mourning by the passing of Belmondo, a legend of New Wave cinema and action films.

"We love Belmondo because he looked like us," Macron said at a ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris. "To lose you is to lose a part of us."

It was a rare honour for an actor, setting him alongside the leading statesmen and artists of French history.

The last time such a homage was staged was for former president Jacques Chirac in 2019.

Politicians, celebrities and sports stars were among the thousand people at the ceremony, with thousands more gathered outside to watch on giant screens set up for the occasion.

They were to due to be allowed in later to walk past his coffin, draped in the tricolour flag.

"It's important for me to be here," said 66-year retiree Brigitte Ratou, one of the first to arrive on Thursday.

"It's like saying goodbye to an old companion, someone who has been there since my adolescence."

The funeral will take place with close family on Friday.

Belmondo, known simply as "Bebel" in France, first came to fame as part of the New Wave cinema movement with films like "Breathless" and "Pierrot Le Fou" by Jean-Luc Godard that helped define French cool in the international imagination.

He went on to become a household name, acting in 80 films covering a multitude of genres, including comedies and thrillers.

Belmondo was also often called "Le Magnifique" (The Magnificent), after a 1970s secret agent satire in which he starred.

"He will always be The Magnificent," Macron tweeted on Monday.

Calling Belmondo "a national treasure", Macron added: "We all recognised ourselves in him."

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