Death of Jacques Perrin, actor and white knight of independent production

A penniless childhood, but without complaint or sadness, was probably not unrelated to the discretion with which he always adorned himself. Actor, director, producer, workaholic, busy all his life with projects that revolved around people, humanism and humanitarianism, Jacques Perrin, born July 13, 1941 in Paris, never never yielded to noise and bustle, let alone stardom. He preferred them, by nature, the calm and the softness which had been registered in his voice, his face and his gestures. The dreamy young sailor of Ladies of Rochefort (1967), the documentary filmmaker and the white knight of independent production died on Thursday April 21 in Paris, at the age of 80, his family announced to Agence France-Presse.

His talent, he confided without false modesty, was to know how to bring together people who had it. Jacques Perrin liked to take and learn from others, finding in them the knowledge and the energy necessary to carry out his adventures. A pragmatic idealist, with quiet tenacity, aware of the passing of time and with blue eyes resolutely turned towards the future, he held the helm undeterred by the storms. Of Z (1969) at Migratory people (2001) via Victory singing (1976) and Himalayas, the childhood of a chef (1999), Jacques Perrin hardly had any easy filming. Each time, he had to go to the charcoal, to seduce, to convince.

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Against everyone’s advice

Obstinacy lays the first stone of his production company Reggane Films (which later became Galatée Films), which he created in 1968 to take over, against everyone’s advice, the project of Z, of Costa Gavras. The Greek filmmaker, who had him play in compartment killers (1965) and One man too many (1967), has just been let go by the Americans. He is about to lower his arms. “We then set up a co-production with Algeria. Nobody wanted to follow us. (…) Let’s admit that we did some accounting acrobatics, anticipating success. Montand and Trintignant received derisory fees”, explained Jacques Perrin to the World in 1996. On the day of its theatrical release, exhibitors expected a disaster. Z will be an international triumph. Four million admissions in France. Awards galore, including the Oscar for best foreign language film, which will go to Algeria.

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The experience gave wings to Jacques Perrin. He produced the following Costa-Gavras films, State of siege (1973), Special Division (1974). And persists in another project: the film adaptation of the novel by Dino Buzzati (1940), The Tartar Desert, of which he acquired the rights but on which several screenwriters and filmmakers are breaking their teeth. For ten years, Jacques Perrin clings. The film ends up finding its director in the person of Valerio Zurlini, and sees the light of day in 1976, with, in the role of the ardent lieutenant Drogo, Jacques Perrin. Which, the same year, gave Jean-Jacques Annaud the means to realize a dream he had been nurturing for seven years: Victory singing – the story, in 1915 in the African bush, of a few French soldiers who, to relieve their boredom more than out of patriotism, decide to attack a German post. At the French box office, the film is a failure. Offloaded by ten minutes, renamed in English Black and White in Color (“Blacks and Whites in Color”), he crossed the Atlantic and won the Oscar for best foreign film.

The Roaring Forties (1981), by Christian de Chalonge – inspired by the true story of Donald Crowhurst – was not so lucky. The film, in which Jacques Perrin interprets the title role, multiplies the pitfalls throughout its production, and experiences a shipwreck on its release. Jacques Perrin will take ten years to repay the accumulated debts. Others were said to have been shot. He, in five years, produced three films with filming crazier than each other: Microcosmos, the grass people (1996), by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, Himalayas, the childhood of a chef (1999), by Eric ValliThe Migratory People (2001), which he co-directed with Jacques Cluzaud.

Blockbuster budget documentaries

He is then the only one to dare to face the naturalist documentary with a blockbuster budget. Pharaonic films requiring years of preparation in scientific research, location scouting around the globe, design of equipment. For Microcosmos, it is necessary to build very expensive tools capable of monitoring actions and capturing emotions on the scale of a millimeter or a tenth of a millimeter. For the migrating people, months are needed to accustom the birds to the presence of the camera-weighted flying machines. Each of these films reminds Jacques Perrin of the dangers facing the planet, and engages him further in the fight to save it. It is in this spirit that he undertakes his great work, oceans (2010), a hymn to the sea and the creatures that inhabit it. He took up the torch from another Jacques – Cousteau – and improved his methods. The titanic filming spans five years and takes his team to five continents.

He said he had acquired a taste for adventure at the end of the 1950s, when he was a cabin boy on a trawler in the Mediterranean and the fishermen, former long-distance sailors, had told him about their encounter with distant seas. Then having reinforced it, fifteen years later, on the set in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, of the film The 317and Section (1965), by Pierre Schoendoerffer. But deep down, this desire to travel had taken root much earlier. In childhood, at the boarding house where he had been placed as a child and where, until the age of 11, he had spent his sleepless nights imagining “go elsewhere”, “breathe differently”.

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The profession of actor was the necessary step to open all paths. He took him away from an ordinary life, without him having to ask himself the question. With a father, Alexandre Simonet, stage manager at the Comédie-Française, then prompter at Jean Vilar’s TNP, and a mother, Marie Perrin, actress, first prize at the Lyon Conservatory, it is difficult to escape. His father rocks him with theater stories. His mother recites poems during family evenings and at the Caveau de la Bolée in Paris. Literature accompanies little Jacques, softens the hardships of war and consoles him, in part, for the separation of his parents. After a hard-earned study certificate at the age of 14, and a few odd jobs (teletypewriter at Air France, grocery clerk), he began to work in the theater with Antoine Balpêtré (1898-1963), the godfather of his sister Eva. Three years later, he entered the Conservatoire, where he quickly spotted Jean Yonnel (1891-1968), “statue of the commander” of the Comédie-Française, tragedian with the illustrious baritone voice whose class he had then joined.

It was on the stage of the Théâtre Edouard-VII, where he performed a play with Sami Frey, The year of the baccalaureate, directed by Yves Robert, which attracted the attention of Italian filmmaker Valerio Zurlini (1926-1982). The latter gives his first big role in the cinema to Jacques Perrin, in The girl with the suitcase (1961), then a second in Personal diary (1962). The Italian studios immediately monopolize this young actor who, for three years, will figure among the most famous young stars of transalpine cinema. In France, he played roles in the films of Henri-Georges Clouzot (1907-1977) – The truth, 1960 –, by Mauro Bolognini (1922-2001) – Corruption1963 –, by Costa-Gavras, by Pierre Schoendoerffer (1928-2012) – The 317and Section, in 1965; Drum Crab, in 1977; A Captain’s Honor, in 1982; and Up there, a king above the clouds, in 2004.

“A sweet parenthesis”

In the 1960s, New Wave filmmakers ignored this. “I thought I had neither the character nor the intelligence of the New Wave community. I thought I was closer to traditional cinema,” he explained in 2005. Jacques Demy (1931-1990) nevertheless made an exception to the rule and called on him to The Demoiselles de Rochefort. Perrin is surprised. He can’t dance and sings out of tune. Worse, he is petrified at the idea of ​​finding himself alongside Danielle Darrieux (1917-2017), Gene Kelly (1912-1996), George Chakiris, Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac (1942-1967). Demy doesn’t care, Jacques Perrin will be his young blond sailor from the Ladies. Three years later, the Prince of Donkey Skin. “These characters were not me”, will entrust the actor all his life, judging with tenderness these two adventures as “a sweet parenthesis”. Nothing more.

When the cinema had left him, he had shot for television – mostly cop roles – in more than forty TV movies and series. He had also been the producer and host of “La 25and Hour”, documentary meeting on Saturday evening on France 2, in which he gave carte blanche to the creativity of directors deemed difficult. He had finally lent his voice to the narration of several documentaries. His requirement, his stubbornness had never cut him off from the general public. On the contrary. Popular, out of generosity and sincerity, Jacques Perrin wanted to involve the world in his convictions. The spectators had followed him.

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On February 6, 2019, officially installed at the Academy of Fine Arts, where Costa-Gavras had given him his sword and Jean-Jacques Annaud had delivered his acceptance speech, Jacques Perrin was moved by this recognition, “unlikely”, according to him. Then he paid homage to his predecessor, Francis Girod (1944-2006), director and producer whom he hailed, among others, “the visionary personality and the great sensitivity, well hidden behind an immense erudition”.

However, he had not considered this entrance to the Academy as a consecration that would allow him to rest. Because Jacques Perrin was far from finished. With his production company, he worked on several fiction films, notably Kersten, by Christophe Barratier (on Himmler’s Finnish doctor), and a Chinese adaptation of Wonderful Journey by Nils Holgersson. As well as two documentaries, one on the adventures of Sea Shepherd, the NGO created by Paul Watson and made up of young volunteers responsible in particular for monitoring whale hunters; the other on the journey, in Western America, of the explorer photographers William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) and Edward Curtis (1868-1952), and of the painter Thomas Moran (1837-1926).

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In these times of social tension, questioning of politics and its institutions, Jacques Perrin believed that “exemplary” was the most necessary thing. “People who allow us to believe. Like a Jean Moulin in the Resistance. We live in dark times, said Brecht. But clarity is a dark story, ”he said in early 2019 to Figaro. He then rejoiced at still being and still having to fight, with the enthusiasm of a stubborn and optimistic child.

The dates

July 13, 1941 Birth in Paris

1977 “The Drum Crab”, by Pierre Schoendoerffer

2001 “The Migratory People”, co-directed with Jacques Cluzaud and Michel Debats

2010 “Oceans”, co-directed with Jacques Cluzaud

2016 “The Seasons”, co-directed with Jacques Cluzaud

April 21, 2022 Died at 80

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