France stages rare national tribute to film icon Belmondo

ParisUpdated: Sep 10, 2021, 07:36 AM IST


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France has been cast into mourning by the death of Belmondo, a legend of New Wave cinema and action films.

Thousands turned out Thursday in Paris to honour Jean-Paul Belmondo, the film icon who helped define French identity for six decades, with President Emmanuel Macron offering an emotional farewell to the star who died this week aged 88.

France has been cast into mourning by the death of Belmondo, a legend of New Wave cinema and action films.

"We love Belmondo because he looked like us," Macron said at a ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris. "Dear Jean-Paul, to lose you is to lose a part of us."

It was a rare honour for an actor, setting him alongside the leading statesmen and artists of French history.

The last time such a homage was staged was for former president Jacques Chirac in 2019. 

Among the celebrities, politicians and sports stars in attendance for the ceremony were some of his successors on the French screen, Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin. 

Thousands more gathered outside to watch on giant screens set up for the occasion, and later queued to walk past the coffin, draped in the tricolour flag.

"It's important for me to be here," said 66-year retiree Brigitte Ratou, one of the first to arrive on Thursday. 

"It's like saying goodbye to an old companion, someone who has been there since my adolescence."

Another fan, 52-year-old civil servant Denis Vandevyvere, had travelled from Belgium to pay his respects to his hero. 

"He was great gentleman," said Vandevyvere, who has collected 2,500 pieces of memorabilia linked to Belmondo, known simply as "Bebel" in the francophone world. 

The funeral will take place with close family on Friday. 

Belmondo first came to fame as part of the New Wave cinema movement with films like "Breathless" and "Pierrot Le Fou" by Jean-Luc Godard that helped define French cool in the international imagination. 

He went on to become a household name, acting in 80 films covering a multitude of genres, including comedies and thrillers.

Belmondo was also often called "Le Magnifique" (The Magnificent), after a 1970s secret agent satire in which he starred.

At the Deauville festival of American cinema, currently taking place in the northern Calvados region, veteran director Claude Lelouch led a tribute to the star. 

"If there was one thing he loved, it was standing ovations," said 83-year-old Lelouch at the premiere of his new film. 

"So we're going to give him a standing ovation. This one's for you, Jean-Paul!"