The Rake

UN PAS DE DEUX

Source: Jean-Paul Belmondo on the shoulders of Jean Gabin in Un Singe en Hiver, 1962.

In the spring of 1962, in a small bistro in Normandy, a momentous meeting took place: Jean Gabin sat down for a coffee with Jean-Paul Belmondo. You didn’t have to be a French cineaste — or even have a passing acquaintance with Gallic poetic realism or the nouvelle vague — to appreciate the baton-passing significance of this encounter. Gabin had been the most popular French matinee idol of the pre-war period and had honed his doomed romantic persona in classics such as 1937’s Pépé le Moko, in which he played a Parisian gangster on the lam in Algiers. Belmondo was two years on from his breakout role in Jean- Luc Godard’s Breathless, in which his performance as the charismatic cop-killer Michel Poiccard — hailed by L’Express as “a bit of a crook, a bit of an anarchist, a bad boy but with a soft heart” — had updated the Gabinian paradigm for a looser, more freewheeling (not to say jump-cutting) age.

Now the pair had (). Albert (Gabin), the owner of a hotel in a windswept Normandy village, is an ex-alcoholic who, while swearing to his wife that he won’t touch another drop, laments the passing of his booze-soaked misadventures. The arrival of Gabriel (Belmondo), a bottle-hitting boulevardier trying to outrun a failed marriage, sets them both on a binge that spirals out of control. Gabin — not yet 60 but already revered as the Godfather of French cinema — and the 28-year-old Belmondo shared many bar-room dialogues, Gabin appropriately rueful but with a hint of steel in his penetrating gaze, Belmondo brimming with manic energy, as they feasted on lines such as, “Ce n’est pas le vin qui me manqué, c’est l’ivresse!” (It’s not the wine I miss, it’s being drunk!)

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