Jean-Louis Trintignant is one of France's most distinguished and
recognisable actors. In a busy acting career that encompasses
more than half a century, he has appeared in over a hundred films and
he has worked with some of the most eminent of French and Italian film
directors, including Eric Rohmer, Michel Deville, Alain Robbe-Grillet,
François Truffaut, Bernardo Bertolucci and Ettore Scola.
When he started appearing in films, Trintignant was almost invariably
cast as the gauche romantic hero, seductive but not imposing.
Later, he gravitated towards darker, more complex roles, becoming more
of the anti-hero, misanthropic, solitary, calculating and
cynical. A quiet and unassuming man by nature, Trintignant
remains modest about his achievements and has not actively sought
stardom. Few French actors are as universally well-regarded as he
is and he is unquestionably one of the most charming and talented
actors of his generation.
The son of a wealthy industrialist, Jean-Louis Trintignant was born on
11th December 1930 at Piolenc in the department of Vaucluse in
southeast France. As a boy, he had ambitions of following in the
footsteps of his uncle, the well-known motor racing driver Maurice
Trintignant. In 1949, Trintignant began to study law at
Aix-en-Provence, but, at the age of 19, he found a sudden passion for
acting, having seen Charles Dullin's stage production of
He abandoned his studies and took drama classes in Paris, under Charles
Dullin and Tania Balachova. Trintignant claimed that acting is
what allowed him to overcome his chronic shyness.
Trintignant made his stage debut in 1951 in a production of À chacun selon sa faim
Raymond Hermantier's theatre company. Having spent a few years in
theatre practicing his art, he then made up his mind to become a film
director. He studied filmmaking technique at the prestigious film
school IDHEC (Institut des hautes études
cinématographiques), although it would be twenty years before he
made his first film, Une
journée bien remplie
(1972). This, and the next
film he made, Le Maître-nageur
proved to be major flops, and so Trintignant's hopes for a successful
filmmaking career were effectively dashed.
Jean-Louis Trintignant began appearing in films in the mid-1950s.
Having taken a few bit parts, he was given his first significant film
role in Christian-Jaque's Si tous les gars du monde
(1956). Later that year he found international fame when he
starred opposite Brigitte Bardot in Roger Vadim's Et Dieu... créa la femme
(1956). Trintignant's brief affair with Bardot attracted the
attention of the world's press and destroyed Vadim's marriage to the
actress. Trintignant escaped the media maelstrom by going off and
doing his military service. He served in the Algerian War and was
profoundly affected by what he experienced during the conflict.
Three years of military life were enough for him and he returned to
civilian life eager to resume his acting career. Having won
praise for his stage portrayal of Hamlet, he was given another
important film role by Roger Vadim, appearing alongside Jeanne Moreau
and Gérard Philipe in an updated version of Les Liaisons dangereuses
Trintignant's long association with Italian cinema began with Valerio
Zurlini's Estate violenta
(1959), followed by Dino Risi's Il
(1962), one of his biggest successes in Italy.
Around this time, he met and married Stéphane Audran, although
the marriage was short-lived and the actress left him to marry director
Claude Chabrol. Claude Lelouch's Oscar winning Un homme et une femme
brought Trintignant another dose of international celebrity and
established him as one of France's leading film stars. In 1968,
he won the Silver Bear Best Actor award at the Berlin International
Film Festival for Alain Robbe-Grillet's L'Homme qui ment
In 1968, Jean-Louis Trintignant married the actress and film director
Nadine Marquand, with whom he would make several films, including some
with their daughter Marie. The couple had three children, but two
would die in tragic circumstances - Pauline was a victim of cot death;
Marie, a prominent actress, was killed when she was 41, in the course
of a violent dispute with her boyfriend, Bertrand Cantat.
The couple later divorced and Trintignant subsequently married the
famous racing driver Marianne Hoepfner in 1984.
In the 1960s and 70s, Trintignant became particularly associated with
the political thriller, an increasingly popular genre in France and the
kind of film that seemed to fit the actor's cool but sensitive persona
perfectly. Of the many political thrillers he appeared in, the
best known are: Alain Cavalier's Le Combat dans l'île
(1962), Costa-Gavras's Z
(1969) (which won him the
Best Actor award at Cannes in 1969), Bernardo Bertolucci's Il conformista
(a.k.a. The Conformist
) (1970) (which he
rates as one of his best roles) and Yves Boisset's L'Attentat
notable thrillers include Jacques Deray's Flic
(1975) (in which he makes an effective contrast with
Alain Delon), Michel Deville's Eaux profondes
François Truffaut's swansong Vivement
Whilst Jean-Louis Trintignant had a very strong presence in mainstream
French cinema for the best part of three decades, he also appeared in
several notable auteur pieces. These include: Eric Rohmer's Ma
nuit chez Maud
(1969), Ettore Scola's La Terrazza
(1980) and Alain Tanner's La
(1987), in which the actor gives
some of his best performances. Trintignant's later appearances in
Jacques Audiard's Regarde les homes tomber
Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois couleurs Rouge
transformed his screen persona and allowed him to make a high profile
comeback in the mid-1990s.
Trintignant's early ambitions to become a racing car driver were
finally fulfilled in the 1970s, when, having taken lessons in the
sport, he began to compete in various races and rallies, including the
Le Mans 24 Hours (in 1980) and the Monte-Carlo Rally (in 1982 and
1984). In 1996, he gave up racing and bought a vineyard just
outside Nîmes in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France.
It was career move that suited him and within a few years he had become
one of the region's most successful viticulturists. Jean-Louis
Trintignant has not turned his back on the profession that made him
famous and which he remains passionate about. Since 2000, he
periodically puts in an appearance in French cinema, although he
prefers to devote his acting energies to the theatre, the place where
he discovered the histrionic art and made it his first mistress.
© James Travers
The above article was submitted to filmsdefrance.com in good faith and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.
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