French film great Jean-Louis Trintignant, best known for his roles in “A Man and a Woman,” “Z,” and “The Conformist,” died Friday. He was 91.
Trintignant died at his home in southern France, his wife, Marianne, and agent told the Agence France-Presse.
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Taciturn and enigmatic, the “reluctant” actor, who came by his profession by accident and several times announced he was quitting, returned time and again to appear in more than 100 films and achieve international stardom over of a period of more than 40 years working with some of the world’s great directors including Claude Chabrol, Abel Gance, Bernardo Bertolucci, Costa-Gavras, Ettore Scola and Francois Truffaut, as well as Kieslowski and Haneke.
Though he claimed to prefer racing cars, he once told an interviewer, “Basically, I became an actor because I was not gifted in any other art.” Nonetheless, his talents brought him acclaim on the French stage and in some of the more significant films of the post-war era. Trintignant left an indelible impression in his best work both as romantic leading man and character performer.
After working in the theater in the early ’50s, he landed his first film role in 1954’s “Responsabilite limitee,” and though he tried to avoid working more regularly, he had just married actress Stephane Audrane and went on to star in “Si tou les gars du monde” and “La Loi de rues” in 1956.
His first widespread notice came that same year for his work opposite Brigitte Bardot in Roger Vadim’s “And God Created Woman,” which led to a widely public affair with Bardot and the dissolution of his marriage to Audran. His career was interrupted for two years’ military service, after which he returned to Paris, married Nadine Marquand and worked briefly as assistant to Agnes Varda. Though he was reluctant to return to acting, an opportunity to do Hamlet presented itself, and he debuted in 1958 to widespread acclaim.
The following year he returned to films in Vadim’s contemporary version of “Les Liaisons dangereuses” and then in an Italian film, “The Violent Summer.” He next worked for Abel Gance in “Austerlitz” and for Jacques Demy in a segment of “The Seven Deadly Sins.”
Cast against type as a villain in 1962’s “Island Battle,” Trintignant received his best notices to date and then went on to star in Dino Risi’s “Il Sorpasso,” which was so popular it spawned a sequel.
He first worked with Greek director Constantin Costa-Gavras in 1965’s “The Sleeping Car Murders.”
The following year he became an international star via Claude Lelouch’s romance “A Man and a Woman” opposite Anouk Aimee.
He went on to star in Alain Robbe-Grillet’s “Trans-Europa Express” in 1966 and director wife Nadine Marquand’s “Mon amour, mon amour” in 1967 before starring in Chabrol’s “Les Biches.” After a few pedestrian efforts, he ended the decade in Costa-Gavras’ internationally acclaimed “Z” (for which he won best actor at Cannes) and Eric Rohmer’s “My Night at Maud’s.”
After starring in Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece “The Conformist” in 1970, he was presented with the chance for American stardom, but he turned down Francis Ford Coppola, who offered him a role in “Apocalypse Now,” and Steven Spielberg, who courted him for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He also passed on Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris.” Instead, he starred in several well-received but unexceptional films like Lelouch’s “The Crook,” “Without Apparent Motive,” “The Opium and the Stick,” “L’Attentat” and “The Outside Man.”
In 1973 he tried his hand at directing “A Full Day’s Work,” which was nicely received but poorly attended. Later in the decade he tried again with “The Master Swimmer,” which quickly faded. In between he starred in “Les Violons du bal,” and wife Nadine Marquand’s “The Honeymoon Trip.”
Trintignant and Marquand divorced in 1976. He devoted himself to his new house in the south of France before returning in 1980 in Francis Girdo’s “The Lady Banker,” then segued into characters roles in Ettore Scola’s “The Terrace,” “Passione d’Amore” and “La Nuit de Varennes” and Roger Spottiswoode’s “Under Fire” (1983), his first English-language film, returning to leading man status in “Deep Water” and Truffaut’s last film, “Confidentially Yours.”
He now alternated between leading man and supporting roles, working again with (now ex-wife) Nadine Marquand in “Next Summer” (1985) and doing Girod’s “Le bon plaisir,” Lelouch’s “Viva la vie” and a sequel to “A Man and a Woman” in 1986. He also starred onstage in a French revival of “Two for the Seesaw.”
The actor drew a Cesar nomination in 1986 for “The Woman of My Life,” directed by Regis Wargnier.
Trintignant drew acclaim almost a decade later opposite Irene Jacob in Kieslowski’s last film, “Red” and turned in solid performances in “A Self Made Hero” and “Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train” (1998). He picked up Cesar noms for “Red” and “Train” as well as for Pierre Boutron’s 1995 film “Fiesta.” He also did voicework for 1995 surreal fantasy “The City of Lost Children.”
Trintignant slowed down in the 2000s, appearing in a supporting role in “Janis and John,” in an uncredited role in “Immortal” and in a voice role in the sci-fi comicbook adaptation “Immortal.”
In general, however, Trintignant spent more time onstage (and making wine at his own winery) in his later years than appearing in films.
In 2003, he and his daughter Marie read onstage “Les Poemes a Lou” (love letters written by the poet Apollinaire).
Marie, a successful actress in her own right who appeared with her father in a number of films, was killed the same year by her boyfriend, singer Bertrand Cantat. Cantat’s return to the stage and the positive reception after serving a brief three years in prison stirred outrage among those campaigning against domestic violence.
In 2005, Trintignant presented his show “Jean-Louis Trintignant reads Apollinaire,” created in honor of Marie, at the Avignon Festival.
The actor was tempted back to the bigscreen in 2012 for a leading role opposite Emmanuelle Riva in Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. He played an elderly man caring for his wife after the latter suffers a debilitating stroke. Variety said, “Trintignant, who found frailty in seemingly tough characters for most of his career, does the opposite here: Georges may be weakened by age, but his commitment to Anne is so strong, he puts aside his discomfort to assist her.”
He was born in Piolenc, in the south of France, the son of a well-to-do businessman. During WWII, his mother worked for the Resistance; when she was captured, he spent four months hiding in the French woods with his brother, Fernand. Choosing the law as his profession, he soon switched over to the French national film school, studying acting, he said, as a means to overcome his shyness.
Trintignant is survived by his wife Marianne and son Vincent, an actor, writer, assistant director and director.
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