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Cancer, chaos, tragedy... French film legend Trintignant reaches for poetry

Rana Moussaoui and Fiachra Gibbons

Agence France-Presse

Paris, France  /  Fri, December 14, 2018  /  03:05 am
Cancer, chaos, tragedy... French film legend Trintignant reaches for poetry

In this file photo taken on May 22, 2017 French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant attends a press conference for the film 'Happy End' at the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. (AFP/Laurent Emmanuel)

He is 88, has cancer and has had to endure the rock star who killed his daughter attempt a very public comeback earlier this year.

Now Jean-Louis Trintignant, the French acting legend who at 83 had critics fighting back the tears at his performance in the Oscar-winning "Amour", is quietly staring down the odds yet again.

With theatres and museums in Paris shuttered last weekend by the "yellow vest" protest movement that has shaken France, Trintignant has taken to the stage again with something you might think would calm the spirits -- a poetry show.

"There are a lot of anarchist poems in it actually, which worries me a bit," Trintignant told AFP.

Rousing rebel verse that a few weeks ago he "took great pleasure in reciting now feel a bit like demagoguery," he admitted in the febrile atmosphere of the street revolt against President Emmanuel Macron.

Trintignant -- who first made international headlines when Brigitte Bardot left her husband Roger Vadim for him on the set of "And God Created Woman" in 1956, a film Vadim was directing -- learned early to fear the madness of the mob.

The day his hometown was liberated from the Nazis in 1944, he was paraded through the streets alongside his mother who had her head shaved for "sleeping with the Germans".

- Lost daughters -

In a bitter irony, later the same day his father, a Resistance fighter, returned home in triumph with the American army.

As a young conscript, Trintignant was later sent to "pacify Algeria" as the former French colony fought for independence. He was sickened by the "violent hypocrisy" of the war.

"It is hardly surprising that the young men sent there are still incapable of talking about it," he said.

Still greater trauma was to follow when his daughter Marie, an actor herself and a mother of four young sons, was beaten to death in 2003 by her boyfriend Bertrand Cantat, the lead singer of the French band Noir Desir, in a hotel room in Lithuania.

After serving four years in prison for her murder, Cantat pulled out of a comeback tour this summer following a string of protests by women's groups outside venues.

A woman holds a photo of late French actress Marie Trintignant, as women from feminist organizations demonstrate on Mar. 12, 2018 in front of the Rockstore venue, against a concert of French singer Bertrand Cantat as it takes place in Montpellier, southern France. Cantat told AFP on March 12, 2018, he was renouncing to perform in summer festivals as he was facing mounting opposition to his concerts, 15 years after his actress girlfriend Marie Trintignant died at his hand.A woman holds a photo of late French actress Marie Trintignant, as women from feminist organizations demonstrate on Mar. 12, 2018 in front of the Rockstore venue, against a concert of French singer Bertrand Cantat as it takes place in Montpellier, southern France. Cantat told AFP on March 12, 2018, he was renouncing to perform in summer festivals as he was facing mounting opposition to his concerts, 15 years after his actress girlfriend Marie Trintignant died at his hand. (AFP/Pascal Guyot)

But Trintignant refuses to give in to bitterness. "He doesn't interest me. I wish I had never met him, that my daughter hadn't met him. But she was deeply in love, and he was too, I think. 

"But I don't want to see him, to become his friend," he added.

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- Forgiveness 'indispensable' -

Asked if he could ever forgive, Trintignant replied, "Yes... Life is made up of things that escape us, so forgiveness is indispensable," said the actor, who lost his other daughter Pauline to a cot death.

Trintignant also revealed that it was Marie -- who virtually stopped speaking when her baby sister died -- who persuaded him to turn down the role later taken by Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's hugely controversial 1972 film "Last Tango in Paris".

She was uncomfortable with the script, of seeing her father as the older man in its infamous sex scene with teenage actress Maria Schneider.

Despite announcing his retirement from cinema at least twice in recent years, Trintignant has just finished another film, a final sequel to one of the greatest love stories ever made, "A Man and a Woman".

He and his co-star Anouk Aimee, now 86, reprise their roles from the 1966 double-Oscar-winning film whose soundtrack with its "chabadabada, chabadabada" refrain has gone down in legend. 

Its director Claude Lelouch wanted "to tell how life is stronger than death", and Trintignant could not say no to that.

"I don't know if I am much of a screen actor," said the man whose performance in Bertolucci's 1970 meditation on fascism, "The Conformist" -- which has just been re-released -- won him huge international acclaim.

"I got to know the writer Marcel Pagnol at the end of his life and he once said to me, 'Talent is something you have when you are young.' He was not far wrong, I think."

Despite his time with Bardot, Trintignant insisted he was unlucky in love. "My romantic life has not been happy. Lots of women left me," he added.

And as he celebrated his 88th birthday on stage Tuesday, you could hear a pin drop as he bowed out with a parting poem by Ronsard, "All I have now is bones".

"All I have now is bones, I look like a skeleton... Farewell dear companions, farewell dear friends/ I'm setting off first to prepare a place for you."