Michel Piccoli in one of his most memorable roles in Nanni Moretti’s We Have A Pope which he made at the age of 85 Photo: Unifrance
Piccoli had acted in movies by practically every major French filmmaker, starting with Jean Renoir, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Demy, Costa-Gavras, Jacques Rivette and of course Godard, who cast him in Le Mépris (1963), adapted from Alberto Moravia's melancholy novel, opposite Brigitte Bardot.
He played in more than 60 theatre productions and 100 movies, yet Piccoli's beginnings were not auspicious. He started out in movies as an extra, to make money, and by the time he was discovered, he was already middle aged, or looked it. For years, his screen career consisted of playing extras, and his facial features boasted a perpetual six o'clock shadow. His first breakthrough was in Jean-Pierre Melville's noir Doulos: The Finger Man (Le Doulos), in 1962.
Michel Piccoli 3 Photo: Unifrance
In his memoir, Egotistical Dialogues (Dialogues égoïstes), Piccoli looked back on early passions, and his debut in the post-war avant-garde theatre, working with Roger BIla, Jean Vilar, Jean-Louis Barrault and Peter Brook, with whom he continued to collaborate in his later years.
On the set of Renoir's French Cancan (1955), he met the actor Jean Gabin, his first encounter with a so-called monstre sacré. In the 1960s, he would try almost anything, including a series of popular historic dramas among them Amazons of Rome (Le Virgini Di Roma), shot in Belgrade, with Yugoslav soldiers in blonde wigs playing Amazons. His beginning with Luis Buñuel was in Death In The Garden (La Mort En Ce Jardin), shot in Mexico. Buñuel wanted a portly priest, around 45; Piccoli did the job, and he would go on to collaborate with him in Belle Du Jour among others. He also played a historic Don Juan, directed by Marcel Bluwal, for television in 1965.
Michel Piccoli 2 Photo: Unifrance
Piccoli who was a heavy smoker, both off and on screen, until he gave up at the age of 80, also turned to directing including Not Exactly The Life I Dreamed Of (C'est Pas Tout à Fait La Vie Dont j'Avais Rêvé), a burlesque adventure written with his wife, Ludivine Clerc, and shown out of competition at Cannes.
He remained faithful to his old friend Manoel de Oliveira, with whom he worked on several occasions, including memorably in 2001’s I'm Going Home (Je Rentre à La Maison), in which Piccoli played a great actor who is losing his memory, opposite John Malkovich.
Read more reviews of films featuring Piccoli, here.