While we learn of the disappearance of Michel Piccoli at the age of 94, we republish the portrait that painted Release on the last page, in 2013, and titled “Valive, the monument“
In September 2011, in the (complimentary) criticism that Released devoted to Habemus Papam by Nanni Moretti, the reader was challenged: “Do you know the expression” sacred monster “? It is played there, in front of you. ” Michel Piccoli of course, who, on the day of the meeting, is there before us, for real, in the empty hall of the Cinémathèque française, where a month-long tribute (screenings, lectures) is paid to him. Less tired by age than what his last appearances had suggested, he comments on a few movie posters, has fun with an “Operating Room” sign: “Exploitation, what a funny word!” In an impersonal space, he sits on an office chair his tall waist, hunched over by his 87 years, but carrying a flamboyant past. The voice is serene, oscillates between humor and gravity. He thinks long before each answer, out of a taste for precision, for fear of being incorrect. The practice of the interview does not please those for whom notoriety has “Never, never ever” was any kind of engine, but it sticks to it. He explains : “I find it immodest to talk about yourself. But I rarely say no, because it is so cheeky that someone asks you to talk about your life, that it becomes very pretentious to refuse. “ A nice trick of mental sleight which he will use all along with brilliance. About this tribute from the Cinémathèque française: “I don’t like decorations. So, I felt compelled to say no. And then I said to myself that it would seem presumptuous to refuse. ”
Piccoli is a brown body with a strange presence in its normality (or vice versa), which served as film material for Renoir, Godard, Buñuel, Ferreri, Rivette, Sautet, Brisseau, Vecchiali, Bonello, Carax… Without no contemporary equivalent, he has built a feline career, leaping all over the rooftops of cinephilia, striving to never fall back in the same place, to reinvent himself, to shoot constantly. “I have only one desire: never to be stuck in my acting profession. You always have to find innovations, know that you have to change everything, put things in jeopardy when they have become admirable. ” He evokes the idea of ”travel” and explains: “I’m talking about an internal journey, between different worldviews.” He has this magnificent word: “The directors delegate their secrets to me.” He got carried away in a concentrated enthusiasm: “An actor and a filmmaker are two people who constantly watch each other. I’m working with a director to understand why he chose me, how far he allows me to go in his utmost secrecy. ” It is a nice slip, replaces “director” by “Senator”, conferring on the profession will have legitimacy and power. “I knew the secrets of all the senators I worked with, I questioned them, bypassed them, and I never missed one”, entrusts the one to whom the masters of the image, Godard, Ruiz or de Oliveira have entrusted, precisely, their role and therefore their image.
His secrets, he is careful not to tell. “Am I modest?” Yes, yes and yes.” Does he just recall his childhood in the XIIIe arrondissement, in a bourgeois family, his discovery of theater at boarding school, his beginnings during Simon, his first roles in cinema at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s. Nothing about his family life, the women he loved (Eléonore Hirt, Juliette Gréco or his current wife, the screenwriter Ludivine Clerc), of his children. He describes his own daily life as “very calm”, lives in the Bastille district of Paris. He evokes a family drama, a brother who died before his birth, an event which founds his atheism: “It is incomprehensible that children are denied the right to live and continue to be unlivable.” On the dramas of his time, he sees himself “To arrive in an era which upsets him in a new way compared to other times”. A staunch opponent of the far right, a long-time companion of communism, now a friend of the Socialist Party, he supported François Hollande, to whom he “Pay very close attention”. He wonders : “He managed to become a chef” at the limit “. Isn’t it even more admirable? “ He gives his definition of the left: “Be constantly vigilant about our place in the world.” The engagement was born out of adolescence in the 1940s and the memory of Hitlerian vociferations on the radio. “I grew up in an extravagant, monstrous era, which fascinated me and worried me. Living without politics is lazy. “
There is a Piccoli mystery, which goes beyond human modesty. His unique place in European cinema, his virility which has always dodged machismo, the impression of having always known him as an adult – seen today, he knows his first main role with the public contempt at 38 – make the man intrigue. For the current spectator, he is the man of a cinema that has disappeared today. He is not moved, if not (logically) from a personal perspective: “Alas, given my age, most of the people who made up my movie family are missing today.”
This 87-year-old man does not only fascinate by his physical presence, nor by his glorious appearance, nor even by the pleasure taken by the journalist to interview a “legend”. If Piccoli impresses, it is because he has been able to operate an almost semantic shift. The actor became an author. Of certain films which he certainly made, but above all of a general corpus of roles, of an image of which he himself drew, painted, the features. When so many of his colleagues got caught up in the vanity of being beautiful objects, he worked to become a subject. He explains it, qualifies a film set of “Place where creators – screenwriter, machinist, editor, script or actor – meet where everyone has to produce something”.
His memory stumbles. He searches for proper names, lingers on a few words, including the charming one of “Difficult” that he repeats often. But it only takes a few seconds, a narrowing of the eyes, a vocal flight for Piccoli to become Piccoli again, an old sage and vagabond. And funniness trumps age, these years that are beginning “at bother and tease. “ He solves the problem by talking about Manoel de Oliveira, 104 years old: “Why not do like him and continue for years?”
He does not want to resign. Cinema, why not? But of life, no. Abandonment is the theme of Habemus Papam which he is asked, for the record, if he was amused by the similarities between the film and the resignation of Benedict XVI. He answers : “Ask this admirable filmmaker Moretti to become pope. And let the real pope make films, let him finally explain to us how to be happy. ” A sleight of hand, another one.
Michel Piccoli in 5 dates
December 27, 1925 Birth in Paris.
1944 Become an actor.
From 1950 to the 2000s He has appeared in over 200 films.
Until October 4 Tribute to the Cinémathèque française.