Bacri - 'flawless' mover and shaker of French cinema

Partner of Agnès Jaoui bows out after struggle with illness

by Richard Mowe

Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri in Let's Talk About The Rain
Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri in Let's Talk About The Rain Photo: UniFrance
One of French cinema's most beloved actors (as well as script writer and director) Jean-Pierre Bacri died earlier today after a long struggle with cancer.

Bacri who was 69, often appeared in tandem with his constant companion of many years Agnès Jaoui whom he met in 1986 during rehearsals for Harold Pinter’s play The Birthday Party. It was a starting point for an enduring personal and professional collaboration including the script written jointly for first the theatre and then cinema of Cuisine et dépendances. It was followed by the adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges, Smoking/No Smoking (directed by Alain Resnais), in 1993, for which they won a César, and followed by Cédric Klapisch’s Family Resemblances(also a César winner) in 1996. He scored a reputation outside France for Same Old Song (1997), also by Alain Resnais.

The icing on the cake came in 2000, when the two of them were rewarded with best film and best script César for The Taste of Others, a perfectly honed comedy with Bacri as a tycoon from Rouen who falls for Jaoui as a classically trained actress hired to teach him English. They also scored an Oscar nomination for best foreign film.

Four years later they were on the Cannes Croisette with Look at Me about the complexities of relationships about an overweight young girl (Marilou Berry) who has a terrific singing voice, not appreciated by her writer father (Bacri). Jaoui was the music teacher who helps her.

'Bacri is a synthesis of everything we love about the movies,' said director Olivier Nakache
'Bacri is a synthesis of everything we love about the movies,' said director Olivier Nakache Photo: Philippe Quaisse/UniFrance
Despite rumours about a stormy period in their relationship at the time they went on to make two further films together Let’s Talk About the Rain in 2008 (set in a small town in Provence during a rainy August with Bacri directing and starring and Jaoui writing as well as acting) and Under The Rainbow in 2013, a middle brow comedy earning comparisons with Woody Allen.

Bacri continued his career as a solo actor with such film as Didier, Place Vendôme, Les Sentiments and According to Charlie. He received best actor César nominations for Looking for Hortense by Pascal Bonitzer in 2013 and two years later for La vie très privée de Monsieur Sim.

Bacri was born on May 24, 1951 in Castiglione in Algeria. In 1962 the family left to settle back in France in Cannes. His father was a postman and his mother a housewife. He grew up by being taken every weekend by his father to various cinemas in Cannes. As a young man he left the Riviera for Paris where he signed up for acting classes at the Cours Simon. His first roles in the theatre were under the direction of Jean-Pierre Bouvier which served to get him known. At the same time he started writing and received a prize and recognition for his stage play The Sweet Face Of Love. His first film role to bring him public attention was in Alexandre Arcady’s box office hit Le Grand Pardon in 1982.

Fast-forward to 2018 when the Bacri-Jaoui tandem were back in action in Place Publique (directed by Jaoui) in which they both appeared together in a tale about a washed-up TV host at a reunion in the countryside involving his ex-wife and his daughter.

Jean-Pierre Bacri in C'est La Vie
Jean-Pierre Bacri in C'est La Vie Photo: UniFrance
His last screen appearance was in Photo de Famille (directed in 2018 by Cecilia Rouand) about the reunion of a long-separated family in which Bacri appeared alongside Vanessa Paradis and Chantal Lauby.

His greatest popular success was in Les sens de la fête (known in English and internationally as C’est La vie) in which he played to perfection an ageing Parisian caterer and event organiser who is driven to distraction by various disasters during a wedding at a chateau. The ensemble comedy was directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, also in 2018. Toledano when he was asked why he chose to direct Bacri, said simply: “To our minds he is one of the greatest of French actors! We were always impressed by the exactitude of his acting, his sense of rhythm, and his way of delivering a line. With him, everything is always ?awless.”

Nakache was also unstinting in his praise: “Bacri is a synthesis of everything we love about the movies. He is as much at ease and credible in art films as in more lowbrow comedies. He cultivates his rarity, and when he does accept a project, he takes it on fully. He is a person of great integrity and we love the way he operates.”

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