Jean-Pierre Léaud at Cannes - 1959 (© AFP) and 2009 (© Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP)
After Agnès Varda in 2015, Clint Eastwood, Manoel de Oliveira, Woody Allen and Bernardo Bertolucci in recent years, tribute will be paid to the French actor Jean-Pierre Léaud during the Festival de Cannes. The honorary Palme d’or of the Festival’s 69th edition will be awarded during the Closing Ceremony on Sunday May 22nd.
Jean-Pierre Léaud is part of the Cannes legend. He was discovered by François Truffaut who made him the young hero of his first film, Les 400 Coups (The 400 Blows), and made his first appearance on the Croisette in 1959 as an extrovert, unruly 14-year-old. His spontaneity was representative of the wind of freedom that the French New Wave brought to cinema. Antoine Doinel and François Truffaut continued to support him with Antoine et Colette (Antoine and Colette) (1962), Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses) (1968), Domicile conjugal (Bed and Board) (1970) and L'Amour en fuite (Love on the Run) (1979).
As early as 1965, he began what was to be a long partnership with Jean-Luc Godard; Masculin féminin (1966) and La Chinoise (1967) are considered to be committed and forward-thinking highlights of their collaboration. Fascinated by cinematographic language, Jean-Pierre Léaud was even assistant director for several films by Godard (Pierrot le fou (Crazy Pete), Alphaville) and Truffaut (La Peau douce) (The Soft Skin).
He can also be found in films by Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris) or Jacques Rivette (Out 1). In La Maman et la Putain (The Mother and the Whore) (1973), his offbeat acting, between poetry and flippancy, was offered an unequalled setting and consecrated him once and for all. The film by Jean Eustache was emblematic for a whole generation and received the Jury’s Special Grand Prix at the Festival de Cannes before becoming a cult film.
Since then, the passionate and clumsy, idealistic and disenchanted or enigmatic characters he plays are part of the universes of Aki Kaurismäki (I Hired a Contract Killer), Olivier Assayas (Paris s’éveille (Paris Awakes), Irma Vep), Lucas Belvaux (Pour rire) (Just for Laughs), Philippe Garrel (La Naissance de l’amour) (The Birth of Love), Bertrand Bonello (Le Pornographe) (The Pornographer) or even Tsai Ming-liang (Et là-bas quelle heure est-il ? (What Time is it There?) or Visage (Face), presented in Competition at Cannes in 2009).
Jean-Pierre Léaud is forever daring and surprising, as when embodying the Sun King in the new film by the Spanish director Albert Serra, La Mort de Louis XIV (The Death of Louis XIV), to be shown as a Special Screenings and with both of them present, on Thursday May 19th at 5 pm.