France’s greatest screen seducer turns 80
PARIS - Agence France-PresseTo some he was the sexiest man of the 20th century, to others he is an egotistical cad. But as the actor Alain Delon turns 80 on Nov. 15, France still can’t make up its mind about its greatest screen seducer.
As a slew of new French and Italian television documentaries puzzle over the enigmatic star, even Brigitte Bardot, one of Delon’s oldest friends, has admitted she, too, has never quite solved the riddle.
“You are that eagle with two heads, the ying and the yang, the best and the worst,” the 1960s film icon wrote in a birthday note to Delon. “You are inaccessible and yet so close, cold yet burning hot.” The pair claim never to have been lovers despite being the Venus and Apollo of the golden age of French post-war cinema.
Her legend was launched with “And God Created Woman” in 1956, his four years later playing pretty boy killers and mysterious schemers in such classics as “Plein Soleil,” later remade as “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and Luchino Visconti’s “The Leopard.”
Delon set the template for one of Hollywood’s favorite tropes, the mysterious, cerebral hitman, with his staggering performance as the silent killer in Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samurai” (1967). Directors from Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino to Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh as well as Hong Kong’s John Woo all acknowledge their debt to the inner life Delon gave his stylish killer.The whiff of sulphur that came with that angelic face also proved an irresistible combination to a long line of glamorous actresses who fell for Delon. All these very public affairs ended in heartbreak, tragedy even in the case of his long and complex relationship with the German actress Romy Schneider, “the love of my life” he has often repeated, who died after taking a mix of alcohol and painkillers in 1982 after her son died in a freak accident, impaled on a railing.
“I was programmed for success, not happiness. The two don’t go together,” said Delon, who lives alone with his dogs in the country near Paris.
Women in his life
Yet Delon claims to have always defined himself through the women in his life. “It’s in them, through the look in the eyes of my first wife, Nathalie, from Romy, Mireille (Darc) or the mother of my children (Rosalie van Breemen) that I drew the motivation to be who I am, to do what I had to do,” he said.
For film historian Jean-Michel Frodon, no other French male actor in the last half century “has had the same screen presence.” Yet Delon never made the transition to Hollywood, despite his huge following in China and Japan, which would later drive sales of his perfume brand.
But the fascination with the actor goes beyond his films and his tempestuous love affairs to his troubled childhood, the trauma of his time as a teenage soldier fighting to keep Indochina French and his later failings as a father. While still living his “great passion” with Romy Schneider, Delon reportedly fathered a son with her compatriot, the Velvet Underground singer Nico. While he denies to this day that the child was his, Delon’s mother brought the boy up. They both have the same piercing blue eyes and a smile that can stop traffic.
His complicated private life at one time even engulfed a French president and his wife in scandal.