Jean-Paul Belmondo was one of the greatest actors in all of French cinema. An antihero with a Jester’s face, Belmondo was born to a middle class Parisian family and often found himself being a class clown. When he got older he tried his hand at amateur boxing, failed, and bouncing back up, thrust himself into acting school. Belmondo was a natural. He found himself in crook roles; a result of his distinct, unusual facial features. But when maverick director Jean Luc Godard cast Belmondo in the cinema changing spectacle “Breathless,” Belmondo became an international superstar. After his breakout role, Belmondo constantly challenged and redefined himself, leaving behind a myriad of roles showcasing his great range of emotion and character.
Unfortunately, Jean-Paul Belmondo died this year. Even though we have lost him as a live human, we will always have his body of work. These 10 films are his best and most essential.
1. Breathless (Directed by Jean Luc Godard, 1960)
The movie that started it all, not just Belmondo’s career but the FRENCH NEW WAVE’S international recognition. It started your film school friend’s obsession with Jean Luc Godard. It also started your hipster boyfriend’s obsession of acting like Michel Poiccard and bringing up Jean Luc Godard in every conversation.
But there’s one thing that needs clarification, all of these inconveniences are justifiable because Breathless takes your breath away. Breathless leaves you breathless at each jump cut. Breathless brings breath into your lungs when you’re dying of cinema insufficiency. The center of all of its greatness is Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michel Poiccard. His every step oozes a suave cool that no other actor has replicated since. The precursor to all of modern cinema, Breathless represents cinema of the past and the new age of moviemaking. Belmondo, often described as detached, connected these two worlds together, creating an unforgettable performance.
2. Pierrot Le Fou (Directed by Jean Luc Godard, 1965)
Pierrot le fou, the story of a fool and his girl, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina. They go on a very artsy, pretentious adventure while breaking the fourth wall. One of Jean Luc Godard’s most outrageous movies, “Pierrot Le Fou” will shock, enchant, and delight. Belmondo breaks the fourth wall cooler than Ferris Bueller, and sports a blue face before the infamous 21st century rapper “Blueface.”
3. That Man From Rio (Directed by Philippe de Broca, 1964)
Arguably Belmondo’s most fun role, That Man from Rio remains one of the most exciting action adventure movies of all time. Jean-Paul Belmondo stars alongside Francoise Dorléac as Adrien Dufourquet, a French soldier and the speedy boyfriend of Agnes. After Agnes is kidnapped and taken to Rio de Janeiro by a group of mysterious men, Adrien must go on a search for her under constantly changing conditions and crack the mystery of mystical Amazonian statues. Aside from Belmondo’s captivating performance, That Man From Rio became an inspiration to huge properties such as Indiana Jones and The Adventures of Tintin. It even became an inspiration to Jackie Chan!
Belmondo’s every stunt and fall makes you want to crack a smile, and his fast wit makes up for his delayed reaction time, causing laughs for days. Not only does Belmondo play off of himself extremely well, but he plays off of Francoise Dorleac even better. That Man From Rio is an essential part of Belmondo’s filmography that is more than worth checking out.
4. Borsalino (Directed by Jacques Deray, 1970)
Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo star together in Jaques Deray’s Borsalino, a movie known for relying heavily on the two actors’ charisma and star power. Based on the lives of Paul Carbone and Francois Spirito, Borsalino tells the story of Roch Siffredi and Francois Capella as they navigate the world of women and climb the ranks of power in the Marseille criminal underworld. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays off of Alain Delon superbly and their relationship carries the movie.
While at the time of release, Borsalino was notoriously known for the two actors’ disagreements, none of this tension is present at all in the film, and Francois Capella is larger than life and extremely charming. Borsalino not only serves as the collaboration of two legendary actors but as a showcase of Belmondo’s range of fun and charisma.
5. Le Professional (Directed by Georges Lautner, 1981)
As soon as Le Professional starts we get a deadly but stylish introduction. With Ennio Morricone’s Chi Mai blaring in the background and bright colors invading the screen, gangster Josselin Beaumont appears untouchable. What seems like an exciting intro leads to a slow burning film with small bursts of excitement in the majority of its one hour and 48 minute run time.
By far, the best part of the movie is an older Jean-Paul Belmondo as Josselin Beaumont. Beaumont is a hardened ex-government agent returning to France to get revenge on his old colleagues. Unfortunately his female counterparts are extremely one-dimensional, but Beaumont is an intriguing character and has charm and charisma around the ladies.