Jean-Pierre Léaud

BFM 37 Retrospective

The name Jean-Pierre Léaud immediately brings to mind François Truffaut who, in 1958, chose him at just fourteen years of age to play young Antoine Doinel in Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959). The partnership between the two lasted twenty years and consisted of seven films that follow the growth of the actor and, in part, of Antoine Doinel as a character. Twenty years that saw the flourishing of the Nouvelle Vague. Léaud also worked with Jean-Luc Godard, as an assistant but also as an actor and main interpreter in Masculin, féminin (Masculine Feminine, 1966) and La chinoise (1967). In 1968 he participated in the protests at the Cannes Film Festival, when Godard opened the Estates General of French cinema, an event that gained the favour of most of the authors and some members of the jury. Léaud embodies a way of being an actor which exhudes nonconformism and generational disquietude: some of his mannerisms, like repeatedly running his hands through hair, his emotional hesitancy, the neurotic gait and never defeated immaturity, belong to the history of a period that changed culture and behaviour, and forever eroded powerful ideological strongholds.

But Léaud does not just belong to the French Nouvelle Vague. In 1967 he starred in Le départ (The Departure), by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, a leading representative of the Łódź school. In 1969 he was the protagonist of Julien's episode in Porcile (Pigsty) by Pier Paolo Pasolini. In 1971 he was Colin in Out 1, the 760 minutes long feature film by Jacques Rivette, prominent representative of the creative hotbed that were the Cahiers du Cinéma, and also involved, albeit tangentially, in the Nouvelle Vague.

In 1978, Antoine Doinel's cycle came to an end with L'amour en fuite (Love on the Run): a film ripe with citations and references from the other films of the cycle as well as other films by Truffaut: La nuit américaine (Day for Night, 1973) and Les deux Anglaises et le continent (Two English Girls, 1971). It was the last film Léaud made together with the director who had shaped him: a sum of autobiographical moments that belong to both the creator and his character; the final goodbye to a role from which Léaud perhaps has never completely emancipated.

The French actor's career, which in those same years saw him participating in memorable and controversial films such as Last Tango in Paris (1973) by Bernardo Bertolucci and La maman et la putain (The Mother and the Whore, 1973) by Jean Eustache, continues to this day. Important directors such as Aki Kaurismäki, Olivier Assayas and Tsai Ming-Liang have called him to play in some of their most beautiful films, respectively I Hired a Contract Killer (1990), Irma Vep (1996), Ni na bian ji dian (What Time Is It There?, 2001). Just like he did in the past, Léaud pours into the new characters fragility, weakness, meanness, with the same brazen teenager attitude which still transpires in his body, although weighed down by age.

In 2016 he starred in La mort de Louis XIV (The Death of Luis XIV) by Albert Serra; an extraordinary performance where he was able to inhabit with intensity and dramatic instinct the challenging role of a great protagonist in the history of France.

Jean-Pierre Léaud will be a guest of the Festival.