Remembering Jean Paul Belmondo

The French film great died earlier this month aged 88

Born on the 9th of April 1933, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, Jean Paul Belmondo would define a cinematic movement as the star of the French New Wave of the 1960s, starring in films such as Breathless (1960) and That Man From Rio (1964). 

He was, in the words of the New York Times, a “magnetic star of the French New Wave.” The New Yorker, meanwhile, has called him “an Accidental Revolutionary of the French New Wave”, and the BFI eulogised him as “the epitome of Gallic cool”. 

It’s this latter – Belmondo’s impact on the world of cool – which will arguably be his lasting legacy following his death on 6th September in Paris after suffering from ill health for two decades.  

Jean-Paul Belmondo’s battered face, laconic style and roguish smile captured the imagination of French 1960s youth,” the BBC wrote in its obituary, and decades after his heyday Belmondo was still being heralded as an icon of fashion alongside other 1960s stalwarts like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen.

And, like those icons, Belmondo wasn’t afraid to play the anti-hero. He was, as Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian put it “the beaten-up icon who made crime sexy.”  

Belmondo seemed destined for the artistic life from the start; his father Paul Belmondo was a famous sculptor with his own museum in Boulogne-Billancourt. This bohemian world had a formative effect on Belmondo but, initially he wanted to try his luck as an amateur boxer; in a short career he won 15 out of 23 fights before choosing acting instead. His broken nose, however, came from a playground tussle, not the boxing ring.

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