Death of Michel Bouquet, sacred monster of theater and cinema

Accomplice of Truffaut, Chabrol, Anne Fontaine or Robert Guédiguian, the actor was 96 years old.

He used to say that acting was about taking away rather than adding. “‘Like a painter with his sketches”he explained to First in 2001, when the release of how i killed my father, by Anne Fontaine, one of her great late roles, which had earned her the first César of her career. This process of subtraction, of “landslide” as he said, Michel Bouquet will of course have mainly reserved it for the theater, of which he was one of the sacred monsters, during a career on the boards which will have extended over nearly 75 years, from the creation of caligula with Albert Camus in 1945 to his farewell to the boards in 2017, in the role of Tartuffe, and which will have seen him serve Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, Thomas Bernhard or Jean Anouilh.

The cinema, Michel Bouquet, who died today at the age of 96, kept a distance: “Since I have been doing this job, what interests me is above all the manipulation of a situation by a playwright… Current cinema does not adapt well to these requirements. Film actors act while never forgetting themselves, which is after all the main quality of a film actor. I’m not good at it. Me, I prefer not to be me. So I avoid. Except when I encounter, in a Chabrol, a Truffaut or a Grémillon, a poetic universe, a way of seeing the world which is the main subject of the film. There, I am comfortable. Otherwise, no.”

Born in 1925 in Paris, Michel Bouquet had taken a liking to the theater thanks to his mother, who took him to the Opéra-Comique and the Comédie-Française. He entered the Conservatory at the end of the war, alongside Gérard Philipe. His first big role in the cinema (after in particular an appearance in Manonby Clouzot), will be in white paws, by Jean Grémillon, in 1949. But his real cinematographic golden age will take place later, at the end of the sixties and in the seventies: Bouquet was then in his fifties and chained the roles of bourgeois with pursed lips, ambiguous notables, with a haughty or indifferent air, as if lost in unmentionable obsessions or unreachable thoughts. Lawyer, cop, judge, he is often used against the big stars of the time: Belmondo in The Mississippi MermaidDelon in Two men in the city, both in Borsalino.

François Truffaut makes him one of the five men to be killed by Jeanne Moreau in The bride was in black in 1968, but it was with Chabrol that he shot his masterpieces, starting with The Unfaithful Wife (1969), where he is a bourgeois who kills his wife’s lover, played by Maurice Ronet, in an unforgettable gesture of cold rage, which seemed to contain all the genius of the actor, this part of madness bubbling under a surface falsely frozen. Bouquet tracks down the savagery that hides under banality, conformism, the unspeakable, mediocrity. “Take the commissioner whom I interpret in Two men in the cityhe is magnificent in his mediocrity, magnificent in his lack of interesthe explained. It was necessary to show that this guy can make an atrocious misfortune by being perfectly uninteresting. Mediocrity, moreover, is in itself a magnificent thing.”

Bouquet will shoot half a dozen films with Chabrol, from Tiger perfumes himself with dynamite (1967) at The eye of Vichy (1993), for which he provided the voice-over – remember that he had previously been the narrator of another documentary on the war, Night and Fogby Alain Resnais, in 1956. He will also turn, during these glorious seventies, with Yves Boisset (A count, The attack), Henri Verneuil (The snake) or Alain Corneau (France Public limited company). The years 2000-2010, a period during which he continued to shine in the theater (legendary performances of King is dying), are those of the great “twilight” roles in the cinema: he embodies Pierre-Auguste Renoir (in Renoirby Gilles Bourdos, 2012) and François Mitterrand in The Walker of the Champ de Mars (Robert Guédiguian, 2005), which earned him his second César. But even when he was interested in these exceptional destinies, the actor first thought of subtracting: “I don’t like it when actors talk like magicians. When they say: I get into the skin of the character “. For Mitterrand, it was necessary to cut back. Reduce, reduce, and reduce again.” A lesson in sobriety.

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