Jean-Louis Trintignant, star of famous European films, dies at 91

Jean-Louis Trintignant, a leading French actor of subtle power who has appeared in some of the most famous European films of the past 50 years, including Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Le Conformiste”, Eric Rohmer’s “Ma nuit chez Maud” and “A Un homme et une femme”, died Friday at his home in the south of France. He was 91 years old.

His wife, Marianne Hoepfner Trintignant, confirmed the death to Agence France-Presse. Mr. Trintignant announced in 2018 that he had prostate cancer and was retiring.

Mr. Trintignant seemed to specialize in playing the flawed Everyman and slowly revealing the depths of his characters.

“Jean-Louis Trintignant has been, for more than half a century, one of cinema’s great stealth actors,” wrote critic Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times in 2012. “He knows how to surprise an unaware audience.

The occasion was the release that year of Michael Haneke’s “Love,” which won the 2013 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. In a starring role for the first time in the millennium, Mr. Trintignant, then nearly blind, portrayed a frail old man caring for his dying wife, played by Emmanuelle Riva – “two titans of French cinema”, writes Manohla Dargis in The Times – in a film that is both a love story and a rigorous examination of disease and mortality.

It was the cornerstone of a rich career playing a rarely glamorous cast of characters. Mr. Trintignant was an emotionally fragile fascist in “The Conformist” (1970); a shy, meticulous graduate student who accidentally bumps into a saucy bon vivant in Dino Risi’s 1962 “Il Sorpasso” (“The Easy Life”); and a repressed provincial Roman Catholic who resists the seductive advances of a beautiful divorced woman in “My Night at Maud’s” (1969).

“If some people are laughing because I didn’t sleep with Maud, well, I’d rather be seen as ridiculous than a hero,” Mr. Trintignant said in a 1970 interview with The Times. “Even the kissing scenes bore me.”

In 1969, he won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance as a magistrate investigating the assassination of a Greek politician in Costa-Gavras’ political thriller “Z”, which also won the Oscar. in a foreign language that year.

For American audiences, Mr. Trintignant did not fit conventional images of French movie stars, like prankster Jean-Paul Belmondo, working-class hero Jean Gabin or the suave and sophisticated Maurice Chevalier. He was more discreet.

“The best actors in the world,” he once said, “are those who feel the most and show the least.”

Jean-Louis Xavier Trintignant was born on December 11, 1930 in Piolenc, a small town in the south-east of France, where his father, Raoul, was a wealthy industrialist and local politician. Jean-Louis seriously considered becoming a racing driver like his uncle Maurice Trintignant, a top competitor in the 1950s and 1960s who was only 13 years older than Jean-Louis. (Another uncle, Louis Trintignant, also raced and was killed in 1933 when his car crashed.)

Jean-Louis instead began studying law, thinking he would follow his father into politics. But while he was a law student in Aix-en-Provence, he attended a performance of “L’Avare” by Molière and was so in love that he decided to make a career on stage.

Mr. Trintignant moved to Paris to study acting and began appearing in theater productions at age 20. After touring France in the early 1950s, he was hailed as one of the country’s most gifted young theater actors and was soon offered film contracts.

In Roger Vadim’s 1956 film “And God Created Woman”, Mr. Trintignant played the role of a naïve young husband in love with his devilishly flirtatious wife, played by Brigitte Bardot (Mr. Vadim’s wife at the era) in what was considered her. small group sex kitten role. Whether true or not, rumors swirled that she and Mr. Trintignant had an actual affair during filming. Ms. Bardot’s marriage to Mr. Vadim ended in 1957.

Mr Vadim nonetheless cast Mr Trintignant in the 1959 film ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’, adapted from a sexually outrageous 18th-century novel about a scheming noblewoman. M. Trintignant had the minor but romantic role of the charming Chevalier Danceny, music teacher for the French nobility.

The French Academy, the official arbiter of French culture, denounced the film as “profaning a classic”, and it was condemned as salacious from Roman Catholic pulpits on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr Trintignant co-headlined with Vittorio Gassman in ‘Il Sorpasso’, which is widely regarded as Mr Risi’s masterpiece. He played a shy law student who is seduced by Mr. Gassman’s libidinous extrovert and embarks on a road trip through the Italian countryside which ends tragically.

Even more memorable was M. Trintignant’s performance eight years later in “Le Conformiste”. Based on a novel of the same title by Alberto Moravia, the film is a chilling psychological portrait of a secret policeman in Fascist Italy. Mr. Trintignant, in the main role, organizes the assassination of his old friend, a left-wing university professor, whose young wife he covets.

Mr. Trintignant took on his most romantic role, as a racing driver, in “A Man and a Woman” (1966). The film was an international hit, grossing more box office revenue than any previous French film. He said his early passion for racing – and an intimate knowledge of the sport passed down to him from his uncles – made his performance particularly believable.

But he professed he was uncomfortable with the film’s explicit love scenes, in which his co-star was Anouk Aimée, a longtime friend of his wife at the time, director Nadine Trintignant. .

“It was embarrassing to find myself in bed with a woman like that,” he told The Times in 1970. “I had known Anouk for 10 years, and she was Nadine’s best friend, and the whole team was watching.” The film’s best scenes, Mr. Trintignant insisted, were its hairpin turns in Monte Carlo.

He continued to appear in an average of three films a year for the next three decades, more often as a supporting actor than as the lead.

One exception was the acclaimed 1994 film “Red,” the finale of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy. In a work that traces the parallel lives of a group of people living outside Geneva, Mr. Trintignant played a cold-blooded retired judge who spied on his neighbors using high-tech surveillance equipment.

He also continued to perform occasionally on stage.

Later in life, Mr. Trintignant returned to his first passion for sports car racing, competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1980 and the Monte-Carlo Rally in 1984. In the 1990s he spent a much of his time tending to a vineyard he operated. in the south of France or play at the theatre. Her return to acting in “Love” came after an absence of more than a decade.

Mr. Trintignant’s first marriage, to actress Stéphane Audran, ended in divorce. He married Nadine Marquand, then an actress, in 1960 and had three children with her: Vincent, now a director; Pauline, died in infancy; and Marie, a successful actress (she played alongside her father at age 4 in “Mon Amour, Mon Amour”, directed by her mother) and mother of four who at 41 was beaten to death in her bedroom. hotel in Vilnius, Lithuania in the summer of 2003 while filming there.

The murder caused a sensation in the European press. Ms Trintignant’s 39-year-old boyfriend Bertrand Cantat, one of France’s biggest rock stars, later admitted in a Lithuanian court that he beat her in a jealous rage over her plan to vacation with an ex-husband.

He was convicted of manslaughter in 2004 and paroled in 2007, angering the Trintignant family and their supporters.

After Marie’s death, Mr. Trintignant fell into a severe depression.

“For three months I didn’t speak,” he told Montreal newspaper The Gazette in 2012. “After that, I realized I had to either stop living, kill myself, or keep living. live.”

In 2011, he pulled out of a planned solo show at the Avignon Summer Festival in France when he learned that Mr. Cantat was also scheduled to appear at the festival in an acting role on stage.

Mr. Trintignant’s marriage to Nadine Trintignant ended in divorce in 1976. He married Marianne Hoepfner, a racing driver, in 2000. Information about other survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Trintignant’s eyesight deteriorated in his later years, but he accepted his condition. “We weren’t supposed to live past 80,” he told The Gazette. “It’s not that bad. I’m always happy when I’m alone. I have an inner life.

Even at the height of his popularity, Mr. Trintignant insisted acting was still a struggle.

“I’m not a born actor,” he said in the 1970 Times interview. when I’m in front of the camera I become totally free.

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