A few days before his 80th birthday, Jean-Paul Belmondo visited St. Petersburg where he led his creative evening. He arrived with his crony of 65 years, the French actor of Armenian origin Charles Gérard.
During the meeting of friends with Petersburgers, all attention was focused on Belmondo. Meanwhile, Gérard is a famous artist, a favorite of the director Claude Lelouch who shot him in almost all of his films. Charles Gérard has been in the film industry for 67 years (he is 90 now). He is also a director and scriptwriter.
Gérard’s surname at birth was Achemyan. He was born in Marseilles into an Armenian family that had fled from the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. Surprisingly, Belmondo and Gérard did not meet on the set.
It happened in 1949. To-be actors met at a boxing club and did not part anymore. Charles Gérard said: “We had nine fights, he won six and three ended in a draw.” Belmondo was 16 back then, and he had not yet decided whether to be an athlete or an actor.
Gérard already had experience in film shooting. In addition, he participated in the creation of documentary films, and since 1953, he has been a director of short films. Fame came to him after the thriller “A Bullet in the Gun Barrel” which he put together with his friend and director Michel Deville.
In the films shot by Gérard, such well-known French actors as Robert Hossein, Bernard Blier, Jean Rochefort played. However, “the other side of the camera” has always attracted Gérard, and in the early 1970s, temporarily leaving the profession of director and screenwriter, he became an actor.
The decisive event in his acting career was his meeting with the famous Claude Lelouch (director of the film “A Man and a Woman”). In 1970, Lelouch invited Gérard to play in his film “The Crook”. During the filming, they became close friends, and Lelouch shot Gérard quite often since then.
In the film company “Films 13” owned by Lelouch, Charles Gérard became an indispensable person. Memoirs of Claude Lelouch read, “Without any warning, Charles Gérard visited my office. He immediately tried, as they say, to flatter, assuring me that he adores all my films.
I was only familiar with this person who usually appeared near Belmondo from afar. I only knew that he had shot hundreds of documentaries about sports and had made several feature films with insignificant funds, successfully “creating” several actors, including Roger Hanin.
But he managed to fascinate me very soon. No one could resist it. Charles was able to win over everyone through his face of an ancient Egyptian scribe, a soft gait, and innate ease in communication.
An hour later, he already received visitors of the company “Films 13” as if he owned the office. It seemed to me like I was a guest in my home. The unprecedented impudence of this phenomenal person made me tear up out of laughter. I’m already looking forward to his next visit.
“Can you tell me how Mr. Lelouch intends to represent my country?” Shah of Iran, who ordered a collective film to solemnly capture the upcoming celebrations on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire, asked Gérard.
It’s a serious matter, it’s about the image of the country. “Listen, dear Shah,” Charles said unperturbedly, “Do not worry about it. I can guarantee you one thing: the film will spread across the whole world. Will that be satisfying for you?” His Majesty raised his eyebrows, in which the attendants detected irritation.
The air in the room seemed to have become extremely cold. Charles remained calm. And since he did not have the slightest idea of my script, he said vigorously, “You chose Lelouch, bravo!”
I was told about the meeting later. I hadn’t been worried. From the very beginning, I had realized that Charles had been the only person in the whole company capable of captivating the Shah of Iran. I just had had to find out if his majesty had been speaking French.
After receiving an affirmative answer, I had appointed Charles Gérard the negotiator without hesitation. It seemed that Shah, at first somewhat puzzled by his character, was very amused by the meeting, which has not happened to him in a long time.
True, no one has dared to talk to him in such a tone. But Charles got the Iranian contract just like the others. In the company “Films 13″, he quickly became an indispensable person.”
Gérard often played with his friend Belmondo – his sullen face perfectly contrasted with the cheerful squint of Bebel. While Belmondo filled his films with wide, impudent smiles, Gérard was deliberately serious. And this seriousness emphasized the comic nature of a situation no less than Belmondo’s escapades.
Gérard was able to make the audience laugh using minimal facial expression and a few words. He shone in the roles of the second plan in the comedies of Francis Veber, Claude Zidi, and Jacques Brel. Even now despite his solid age, he is full of humor and charm.
Belmondo became acquainted with director Henri Verneuil (born Ashot Malakyan) (1920-2002) in 1960 on the set of the comedy “Love and the Frenchwoman”. Verneuil noticed the talented young man and remembered him well.
Two years later, he invited Belmondo to play with Jean Gabin in his film “A Monkey in Winter”. It was after this film that Gabin uttered his famous phrase about Belmondo: “This guy is ugly, but we have something in common that women like.” Indeed, Belmondo possessed an incomparable male charm which acted more strongly than the external appeal.
The next film of the Belmondo – Verneuil tandem was the military drama “Weekend at Dunkirk”. In the same year, the action film “Greed in the Sun” was released. Belmondo’s good relations with Verneuil were further strengthened by these films. The actor constantly phoned Verneuil. And rarely, when Belmondo was free on evenings, they happily spent time in restaurants with a bottle of wine discussing future pictures.
In the 70’s, Belmondo was filmed in four films of Verneuil. The thriller “Fear over the city” was full of dangerous tricks, which Belmondo has always performed himself without resorting to the help of stuntmen.
In the film, he ran on the roof of a walking subway train and done his most famous trick – hung on a rope attached to a helicopter. Henri Verneuil admired him, “I do not know anyone except for him who could go from a regular situation to stunt tricks, and after them just do what is needed for love scenes…
He is always impeccable. However, it does not hurt when the director tames his temperament a little.” Belmondo’s mettle became legendary among his partners on the set. Because of his hotheaded nature, he quarreled with many of the directors he worked with.
But with Henri Verneuil, Belmondo has never quarreled. Jean-Paul Belmondo said in that regard, “Never. We shot eight films together. He loved movies. He liked to shoot tricks, and I, as you know, loved to perform them. He was also very patient and endured all the jokes that we arranged for him. Often, he didn’t understand right away that a specific situation was a joke! He was a noble person.”
Belmondo became famous playing in the films of the masters of the French “new wave”, but then switched to regular commercial cinema which was much more successful for him. The cooperation with Verneuil marked this transition.
Critics often accused the actor of his extreme passion for commercial cinema. In response, Belmondo stated that he works for millions of viewers, not a handful of reviewers: “My vocation is entertaining people, making them cry and laugh. Name an actor who has been only filmed in masterpieces. If you only play outstanding roles, you will be filmed two or three times in your life. The actor must be filmed constantly, otherwise, he will disappear from screens.”
Maybe Belmondo was right. Many brilliant actors have sunk into oblivion refusing to play in mass cinema after their success.
Among the venerable representatives of the French “new wave” whom Belmondo worked with was François Truffaut. In 1966, Truffaut was looking for a leading actor for his new film “Fahrenheit 451”. Initially, he planned to invite Charles Aznavour, who was shot in his “black” detective film “Shoot the Piano Player”, but American producers (the film was shot by Universal Pictures) rejected the candidacy of the French chanson. Then, Aznavour told Truffaut about Belmondo.
American audience also wasn’t very fond of Belmondo. As a result, Guy Montag was played by Austrian Oscar Werner, but Truffaut didn’t forget about Aznavour’s advice and three years later invited Belmondo to pair with Catherine Deneuve in the movie “Mississippi Mermaid.”
However, the role of a person obsessed with passion was not a part of regular psychological conditions of Belmondo, so Catherine Deneuve completely eclipsed her partner. Since the 70s, Belmondo’s partner on the set often was actress and singer Marie Laforêt (born Maitena Doumenach). The refined, aristocratic appearance of this exquisite brunette successfully overshadowed the rough features of Belmondo.
Laforêt was born in 1939 into a family of Armenian immigrants, although the actress called herself a native of Pyrenees. She became famous quite suddenly. At the age of 17, she co-starred with Alain Delon in the classic French film of René Clément “Purple Noon”.
Since then, she received proposals from such famous directors as Louis Malle, Claude Chabrol, and many others. But glory did not confuse the “golden-haired” Armenian, as she was called by journalists. She always remembered to distinguish between her career and private life.
About that, Marie Laforêt said, “My career was always in my hands. My persona of an actress was an obedient doll, a stranger, an extraneous woman in the hands of my individuality behind the scenes. I had to somehow control her during the journey around the world.
This girl was resignedly ready to play the games that were imposed on her. So, Marie Laforêt sang such hits as “Manchester et Liverpool”, “Ivan, Boris and Me”, the iconic song of the Rolling Stones “Paint it, black,” was filmed quite a lot. But that had nothing to do with my personality.
On the other hand, everything that is in the songs and roles of this doll is human and warm, real and tremulous. It’s all me. But the real me is hidden.”
Belmondo was at one time engrossed in Laforêt and even tried to seduce her, but didn’t succeed. Alain Delon and Michele Placido, with whom Laforêt was shot in the series “The Octopus”, failed as well. In the yellow press, not even a single mention of any kind of love adventure of Laforêt has occurred. Today, she lives in Switzerland, completely away from social life. And she is still beautiful.