5 Essential Movies Starring Iconic French Actor Jean-Paul Belmondo To Watch

French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo died today at the age of 88.

An icon, affectionately nicknamed Bebel in his native land, Belmondo is one of the most beloved and charismatic actors of French cinema. The French New Wave propelled him to fame and several more iconic roles with some of the greatest film directors, becoming France’s biggest box-office star.

Born on April 9, 1933, of artist parents, the renowned sculptor Paul Belmondo and painter Madeleine Rainaud-Richard, Jean-Paul Belmondo trained as a stage actor in the prestigious Conservatoire national supérieur d’art dramatique. In his 60-year career, Belmondo starred in over 80 films, starting with the French New Wave, he turned in the 1970s to comedy and action films and became known for his impressive movie stunts. With such an impressive filmography, it is difficult to pick just five movies. But if you were only to watch five films he starred in, these are the ones I would pick to start with.

À Bout de Souffle (Breathless)

Jean-Paul Belmondo is most well-known internationally for his first major leading role. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, À Bout de Souffle saw Jean-Paul Belmondo play Michel Poiccard, a young delinquent hiding from the police in Paris where he meets the beautiful American Patricia, played by Jean Seberg, pacing the Champs-Elysées to sell copies of the New York Herald Tribune. Godard’s iconic film, that was revolutionary in its style, propelled Belmondo to fame, becoming internationally known in the process. Belmondo will star in three more films directed by Godard. Breathless is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video and to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Leon Morin, Priest

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With the success of À Bout de Souffle, Belmondo starred in seven films before getting the lead in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Léon Morin, Priest in 1961, based on a novel by Béatrix Beck. His role as the young attractive priest in Melville’s film is completely different to Michel Poiccard in À Bout de Souffle. The film tells the story of a young widow, played by Emmanuel Riva, who decides to have her daughter baptized during Nazi-occupied France. She meets with local priest Léon Morin, and they both find themselves confronted with their own religious faith as well as their own repressed sexual desires. Belmondo’s performance here is both subtle and sensual, masterfully directed by Melville. Leon Morin, Priest is on KinoNow.

Le Doulos

A year later in 1962, Belmondo starred in Melville’s next noir-inspired crime movie, Le Doulos. Belmondo plays gangster Silien, who helps his friend fresh out of prison Maurice Faugel, played by Serge Reggiani, prepare for another burglary. Silien, however, is a police informant. Le Doulos oozes with traditional noir themes and gangsters wearing trenchcoats and hats. This French noir is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

Pierrot le Fou

Pierrot le Fou‘s most cult sequence sees Belmondo’s co-star Anna Karenina bored and moaning that she does not know what do with herself (“j’sais pas quoi faire”) until Belmondo tells her to shut up. Belmondo plays Ferdinand, a family man who runs away with the babysitter, Marianne, played by Anna Karenina. The pseudo-romance quickly turns into a road movie filled with cliché French expressions and literary quotations. This was Belmondo’s third collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard, after À Bout de Souffle and his musical Une Femme est une femme (A Woman Is A Woman). By the time Belmondo starred in Pierrot le Fou in 1965, he was already considered a huge star in France. Pierrot le Fou is on Apple TV and Prime Video.

Peur sur la ville (Fear Over the City, aka The Night Caller)

In Fear Over the City, directed by Henri Verneuil, Belmondo plays police officer Jean Letellier tracking down a serial killer. The film is most famous for the scene in which Belmondo runs after the serial killer on top of the moving metro as it crosses the Bir-Hakeim bridge in Paris. It is an incredible stunt sequence, which Belmondo did all himself. Fear Over the City is emblematic of the kind of movies Belmondo starred in, as well as produced, during the 1970s and 1980s. He had by then a predilection for action films, in which he famously did the stunts himself, such as in Le Guignolo which saw him hanging from a helicopter over Venice; or in L’Animal where Belmondo was standing on top of a moving airplane; or in the cult car chase sequence with the Eiffel Tower in the background in Le Professionel which is available to rent on Prime Video.

The Tycoon Herald