Wou have we often seen him shave (almost always wet), tie his tie or light a cigarette? He let us take part in the spectacle of how his forehead grew higher over the years and the remaining hair became increasingly gray.
Only the bushy, dark eyebrows, with which he set ironic accents, defied the color of age for a long time. He has exposed himself manifoldly on the canvas, even in the literal sense of an impressive, unreal fleshiness.
Above all, however, he allowed the directors to reveal disturbing, even monstrous facets of him. He did it with the fearlessness of the interpreter, who is willing to generously engage in a variety of moral conflicts, but who may be secretly speculating that the roles of an filmmaker’s alter ego are more likely to be suspected.
An emotional value
Michel Piccoli’s screen appearances have been a reliable emotional value in European cinema for over seven decades. He was indispensable to him – neither from his past nor from his future.
With Godard’s “The Contempt”, his unconditional willingness to trust the respective gaze of a filmmaker was felt for the first time in 1963. Since then he has effortlessly navigated between the different, contradicting universes of Claude Sautet, Marco Ferreri, Michel Deville, Claude Lelouch, Leos Carax and Manoel de Oliveira.
He remained loyal to Luis Buñuel in six films; Even in the melancholic exuberance of Jacques Demy’s films, his somberly reserved characters were surprisingly in good hands. He also occasionally switched behind the camera, with skill and groping ambition.
Erosion of feelings
The actor, born in Paris in 1925 as the son of an Italian-born musician couple, made his film debut immediately after the Second World War. He only started his canvas career seriously in the mid-fifties. The jeune premier he never had to give even with a full head of hair.
Nevertheless, the most frequent screen partner of Romy Schneider and Catherine Deneuve has always been a great seducer, although rarely a confident one. Drawing his attention to himself was a flattering privilege, but one with barbs.
Claude Sautet discovered a trait of “elegant misogyny” in Piccoli’s canvas persona, which he has been persistently and relentlessly exploring since “The Things of Life” (1969) and which culminated devastatingly in “Mado” (1976). Piccoli usually only parried the accusation of mendacity, of cowardly, contemptuous procrastination in his films with silence and lethargy.
Behind this resigned agreement with the erosion of feelings, he still resonated with their lost depth and sincerity.
When Romy Schneider asked him about her last bitter argument in “The Things of Life” if he could reply anything to her, he answered laconically “No”. But Piccoli puts the greatest tenderness in this “no”.
In spite of the familiarity and intimacy of the depictions, always keeping an aura of the foreign, an unfathomable remnant, was the pound with which he overgrown the canvas, in love as in war. This opacity could have fixed him on genre cinema early on. Jean-Pierre Melville was the first to use it in 1962 in “The Devil in the White Vest”.
He blended excellently into the figure ensembles of the spy films by Yves Boisset and Alfred Hitchcock, played with sarcastic serenity, for example, the political and erotic opponent of the pale hero Frederick Stafford in “Topas” (1969).
But he was particularly interested in this genre work as variants of the role subject that he has mastered as perfectly as no other: the bourgeois. With incomparable connoisseurs, he embodied his passions and life lies, befitting his status, while maintaining his respect, respecting decorations, arrangements and rituals.
An enchanting solitaire in this gallery of masquerades and intrigue is his part in Claude Chabrol’s “Bloody Wedding” (1973): the fierceness of passion, which as an adulterous local politician makes him forget all social calculus, gains a purity and innocence that were unprecedented in the Œuvre of the director.
Despite all reservations, Piccoli could be a seized man, and with all his sovereignty was not an immaculate key witness. His characters know about their own corruption, the betrayal of former ideals and failure as a husband, lover or father.
Desire for outburst and anarchy
In return, the desire for outburst and anarchy persisted in his roles since sixty-eight, in “Themroc” (Claude Faraldo, 1972), “The Great Eating” and other scandal films to which he lent his talent in the early 1970s.
In 1989 it echoed as a cheerful echo in Louis Malle’s “Comedy in May”, where he achieved the childishly wise title character of Chekhov’s subtlety: a nice reflex also of his stage work, a variation of the figure of Gajew, which he had written a few years earlier in Peter Brooks “ Kirschgarten ”production.
Over the years, his sophistication and authority for patriarch figures (with Nanni Moretti he even made it to the Pope, albeit a depressed one) predisposed him, whose sarcasm the younger ones have to fear and which persistently challenge them.
The king, the fool
As an enigmatic manager, Piccoli perfected the role type of Machiavellian mentor in “A strange career” (Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1981), who seems to know the slogan alone to create a realm of unexpected success and decadent pleasures.
He was constantly captivated by the subtle distortions of characters and human relationships, a fascinated analyst of unspoken motives. For example, in “I’m going home” (de Oliveira, 2001) there is no trace of gentleness of age or sentimentality, but rather the participatory research into happiness and unhappiness.
Piccoli had known for a long time that, in addition to kings, aging should also play court jesters. Already on May 12, according to news agency AFP from a family friend, he died of a stroke. Michel Piccoli was 94 years old.