When I heard that today is famous French actor Michel Piccoli‘s 87th birthday, my first reaction was “What? He’s that old?”. Then I remembered that he had a cameo in the most controversial film of the year – Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, he played the boss who only appeared very briefly in a limousine scene, it was hard to recognize him if you haven’t seen many of his films.
Michel Piccoli is not my favorite French actor, but I just happen to have seen so many films he starred in. Well, which French cinema fan hasn’t? I mean, this guy seems to me has appeared in every French film I saw, I know it’s not fair to call him a French character actor, but most of time he appeared in a film for a small part.
Then I looked up wiki to check out his filmography, it said Michel Piccoli has appeared in more than 170 movies, the directors he has worked with includes Jean Renoir, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Lelouch, Jacques Demy, Claude Sautet, Louis Malle, Agnès Varda, Leos Carax, Luis Buñuel, Costa-Gavras, Alfred Hitchcock, Marco Ferreri, Jacques Rivette, Otar Iosseliani, Nanni Moretti, Jacques Doillon, Mario Bava, Manoel de Oliviera, Raul Ruiz. Ok, so it’s every French director at his time plus some notable European masters. He was a very popular actor, and still is.
The first role(s) I would associate the name of Michel Piccoli with is those bourgeois characters he played in some of the most famous Luis Bunuel film, including Diary of a Chambermaid, Belle de Jour, The Milky Way, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of Liberty and That Obscure Object of Desire(voice) . He was perfect for those roles, the kind of person who looks terrific but has something wrong underneath.
The other memorable roles Michel Piccoli has played includes the movie writer in Jean-Luc Gordard’s Contempt, the industrial designer in Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger Is Dead, the painter in Jacques Rivette’s La belle noiseuse and the pope in Nanni Moretti’s We Have a Pope.
If you are not familiar with his name, does any of these film stills ring a bell?
Michel Piccoli in Belle de Jour
Michel Piccoli in Contempt
Michel Piccoli in La belle noiseuse
Michel Piccoli in We Have a Pope
In the end, I just want to say, wish you a long life, Mr. Piccoli. French cinema needs you!