Paradiso’s charmer takes his leave

Tributes flood in after death of Jacques Perrin

by Richard Mowe

Jacques Perrin as the grown-up filmmaker in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso
Jacques Perrin as the grown-up filmmaker in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso Photo: Filmitalia
With a career that spanned contributions both behind and in front of the camera producer, director and actor Jacques Perrin, who has died at the age of 80, had been a fixture in European and global cinema over the decades.

Bleached blonde and youthful: Jacques Perrin in Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort
Bleached blonde and youthful: Jacques Perrin in Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort Photo: UniFrance
Many will recall him fondly as the grown-up filmmaker Salvatore looking back on his childhood in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Oscar-winning nostalgia trip Cinema Paradiso. He started out as an actor in the 1950s, winning his first main role opposite Claudia Cardinale in Valerio Zurlini’s Girl With A Suitcase, which was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 1961. And he was still just 20 when he appeared with Marcello Mastroianni in Family Diary in 1962. Three years later he won the Coppa Volpi acting prize at the Venice Film Festival for his role in Vittorio De Seta’s psychological drama Half a Man. With bleached blonde hair he was love-lorn sailor opposite Catherine Deneuve in Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls Of Rochefort in 1967 and again opposite Deneuve in Demy’s Donkey Skin.

He continued to work as an actor in both Italy and France at a time when there was much cross-border fertilisation of acting talents at such studios as Cinecittà in Rome and Billancourt in Paris, including Jean-Louis Trintignant and Vittorio Gassman. Pierre Schoendoerffer chose him as an Indochine war hero in The 317th Platoon. As an actor he scored a tally of more than 70 screen appearances.

Jacques Perrin as he appears in his last film role in Goliath
Jacques Perrin as he appears in his last film role in Goliath Photo: UniFrance
It was as a producer that he grew into his stride, partly because of his legendary charm and also his humility. He relished particularly the success of The Chorus which he produced in 2004, and was directed by his nephew Christophe Barratier. He produced more than 20 films including Microcosmos, Himalaya, and Winged Migration (he was co-director with Philippe Labro). He was instrumental in helping the exiled Greek director Costa-Gavras with whom he had worked as an actor on his debut feature The Sleeping Car Murders, to make Z (Oscars for best film and best editing in 1969) which had to be filmed in Algeria because of opposition from the military government at home. The film and his friendship with Costa-Gavras launched his career as a producer although he continued to act. Costa-Gavras described him as “one of the most subtle and interesting of French producers” while praising his “great curiosity and extreme kindness".

Among those paying tribute were former Cannes Film Festival president Gilles Jacob, who tweeted: “Jacques was pure charm. He succeeded in everything he touched."

Perrin once told me: “I’m incapable to providing a formula and God save me from ever trying to analyse popular tastes. With The Chorus several French backers turned it down saying it was too old fashioned and nostalgic. It was the same with Winged Migration which became a global hit - and for a little documentary about birds that wasn’t bad.” He went on to make Ocean, another big budget nature epic with a two year shoot. His most recent acting gig was for Frédéric Tellier in Goliath, a thriller about the battle between farmers and multinational pesticide companies

Perrin died peacefully in Paris on Thursday (21 April), according to his son Mathieu Simonet.

He confided once: “I’ve always chosen to live intensely with the films I make, and it is risky. Sometimes the abyss is very big, but I have always come out on top.” There could be no more fitting epitaph.

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