Brasseur - from Godard to Camping

France mourns passing of an acting legend

by Richard Mowe

The late Claude Brasseur as an elderly curmudgeon in The Student And Mr Henri (L'étudiante Et Monsieur Henri)  who lets out a room in his large apartment rent-free to a young student, under one condition: she must do everything she can to ruin his son’s impending marriage
The late Claude Brasseur as an elderly curmudgeon in The Student And Mr Henri (L'étudiante Et Monsieur Henri) who lets out a room in his large apartment rent-free to a young student, under one condition: she must do everything she can to ruin his son’s impending marriage Photo: Unifrance

Claude Brasseur, the French actor who came from a long family tradition in the profession, has died in Paris at the age of 84.

Brasseur was the son of actor Pierre Brasseur and the actress and scriptwriter Odette Joyeux. His great-grandfather Jules Brasseur was the founder of the Théâtre des Nouveautés in Paris.

Claude Brasseur was the son of an acting family
Claude Brasseur was the son of an acting family Photo: Unifrance
Despite his background, Brasseur did not immediately think of going on the stage, preferring instead the idea of becoming a journalist. Once he had taken to the stage in 1954 and made his first film, Rue De Paris (Rue des Prairies), by Denys de La Patellière, there was no holding him back and all thoughts of becoming a scribe vanished.

His career spanned commercial fare and boulevard hits as well as working with the likes of such New Wave icons as Jean-Luc Godard in 1964’s Bande à Part. Roles on television made him a familiar face in many classic series, incluing Il est Sganarelle, opposite Michel Piccoli, and in the title role of François Vidocq in the hit crime series Vidocq between 1971 and 1973.

He had a series of successful films in the Seventies, working with André Techiné on Barocco and with Claude Sautet on A Simple Story (Une Histoire Simple). It was Yves Robert’s comedy Un Éléphant ça Trompe Énormément which won him his first César as best supporting actor. Three years later, he received his second César as best actor in Robin Davis’s The Police War (La Guerre Des Polices). He played Sophie Marceau’s father in one of the biggest commercial hits of the decade, La Boum, by Claude Pinoteau, and then, bizarrely, played her lover in Francis Girod’s House Of Good And Evil (Descente Aux Enfers) just a few years later.

The 1980s saw him in Philippe Labro’s Cover Up (La Crime); Godard’s Detective; Philippe de Broca’s La Gitane; Edouard Molinaro’s Palace and Michel Drach’s Guy de Maupassant as well as the sequel to La Boum.

The next decade marked a return to the theatre rather than on screen, with such triumphs as Le Souper by Jean-Claude Brisville and Le Dîner De Cons by Francis Veber (also made in to a film).

Claude Brasseur in his younger years
Claude Brasseur in his younger years Photo: Unifrance
He stormed back in to film with the boulevard trilogy Camping by Fabien Onteniente in 2006 in which he played the irascible Jacky Pic, husband of Laurette (incarnated by Mylène Demongeot). For the film of the stage play The Student And Mister Henri (L'étudiante et Monsieur Henri), Ivan Calbérac, who had written the original play about a disgruntled old man set to create chaos within his family, wanted an actor who was “part of our cinematographic heritage. Claude Brasseur was perfect for the part as he has often played the seducer, the charming friend, the ideal father and the smiling spy. I was excited to cast him as Henri and to watch him have fun being odious”.

Of his part in the film, Brasseur was quoted as saying: “The film had a theme that is very dear to my heart: modesty. Words are important in literature, but in the dramatic arts, they mainly serve to hide what you’re thinking. The important thing is to grasp the emotion hiding behind the dialogue and to interpret that.”

Brasseur, who is survived by his son Alexander and his discreetly supportive wife Michèle [Cambon-Brasseur), made his last film appearance in 2018 - in Rolling To You (Tout Le Monde Debout) opposite actor and comedian Franck Dubosc, who was making his directorial debut.

Brasseur’s career was more than worthy of the family tradition with a career spanning more than 60 years and 110 film roles as well as countless television and stage appearances. His final resting place will be at the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris in a plot next to his father.

The family name continues through the work of his actor son Alexander, who has appeared in such films as Quand Les Anges S’en Mêlent (2005), La Croisière and Colt 45. The 49-year-old has had recurring roles on TV shows such as Tomorrow is Ours and Duval and Moretti. Claude Brasseur has said he did not encourage his son to go into the profession. “I left him to his own choices,” Brasseur senior once remarked. “I just knew that whether he became an actor, a carpenter or an architect, I’d do anything I could to help him. But there have been actors in my family since 1820, but my grandson isn’t interested. The tradition is stopping here. But the family won’t and that is the main thing.”

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