Actor, producer, and director, Jacques Perrin died on Thursday, April 21 at the age of 80. He embodied one of the most original and daring careers in French cinema, that of a man who was always free and inventive, both at the fringes and in the center, searching for new ways to express his love of cinema, playing every kind of role.
He appeared, when a very young man, in Gates of the Night by Marcel Carné, in 1946, and in The Cheaters (1958), by the same filmmaker, as well as in The Truth by Henri-Georges Clouzot, in 1960. But he really began as a "juvenile lead," an expression used at the end of the 1950s, in Italian films, those by Valerio Zurlini, a brilliant filmmaker whose filmography merits being rediscovered: Girl with a Suitcase (1961) with the beautiful Claudia Cardinale, then Family Diary (1962) starring the great Marcello Mastroianni. He was just twenty years old. It was a time when French and Italian actors crossed the border, some going to shoot films in Rome in the Cinecittà studios, others achieving fame at the Billancourt studios on the Parisian outskirts. It was not necessary to speak Italian because films were post-synchronized. Jacques Perrin, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jean-Pierre Mocky, and many others often acted in Italy. Italian actors spoke French, whether it was Gassman, Mastroianni, or Tognazzi.
In France, Pierre Schoendoerffer made him his hero of the war in Indochina in The 317th Platoon. He was the haunted Second Lieutenant Torrens, making his way through the jungle with his progressively decimated unit. The two men got along perfectly. Years later, Jacques Perrin would participate in other adventures led by Schoendoerffer, always with Raoul Coutard, former war photographer in Indochina, at his side: Drummer-Crab, then A Captain's Honor. His encounter with Costa Gavras would also be fundamental to his career, from the first film by the Greek director who had settled in France, The Sleeping Car Murders (1965). He also acted in Shock Troops (1967), two years before the adventure of Z. Costa Gavras encountered difficulties when he wanted to produce his film denouncing the colonels' dictatorship in Greece. Perrin invented a role for himself as producer, in addition to that of a photojournalist in the film's cast, and managed to convince the Algerian authorities not only to host the filming in Algiers, but also to contribute financially. Z toured the world, achieving incredible success, both commercially and critically, and winning two Oscars including Best Foreign Film.
A new life began, Jacques Perrin became a producer, with more than fifty films to his credit, in parallel with his acting career. The Strangler by Paul Vecchiali (1970), State of Siege (1972), followed by Special Section (1975), both directed by his friend Costa Gavras, Black and White in Color, Jean-Jacques Annaud's first feature (1976, Oscar for Best Foreign Film), The Roaring Forties by Christian De Chalonge (1982), The Monkey Folk by Gérard Vienne, Out of Life by the Lebanese filmmaker Maroun Bagdadi (1991), Microcosmos by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, and Winged Migration in 2001, which he codirected with Jacques Cluzaud and Michel Debats. Not forgetting The Chorus and Paris 36, both directed by Christophe Barratier, his nephew. These were among many other films to which he contributed as an actor or producer.
Two films established his legend with audiences: The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) and Donkey Skin (1970) by Jacques Demy. Either Maxence, a sailor with dyed blond hair always on the move, or a marriageable Prince Charming, the roles he played in these two films would cement his eternal image of a young lead. What is most striking in this long and diverse career, sometimes in cinema, sometimes in television, is the diversity of his appearances as actor, director, or producer. He was constantly taking risks, for example when he worked hard to produce The Desert of the Tartars (1976), with the same Valerio Zurlini who had given him his first opportunity when he was young. Jacques Perrin possessed a beautiful stubbornness, determined to see his ideas or his desires through to completion and fulfilment. Whatever it took. He also demonstrated great humility. These qualities are what made him a great, ethical all-round man of cinema.