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Jean-Paul Belmondo : lessons of a life well lived

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Jean-Paul Belmondo is gone and his disappearance leaves an abyssal chasm that it would seem vain to try to fill. More than an actor or a comedian, Jean-Paul Belmondo was a man. He is no longer here, but he will live forever, as long as our hearts continue to beat, we, the anonymous crowd that we are who loved him so much. In this article, I do not wish to indulge in inappropriate or embarrassing glorification of him (he did not like that). I simply want to try to understand what contributed to his success, but in reality, it is much more than that. I want to try to find out what makes it possible for me to say that he had a life well-lived, even if I don’t think he was successful.

Living according to your natural talents

Jean-Paul Belmondo was born with an ardor, a spirit, a gouaille that he did not want to curb. On the contrary, he used this deep character trait to give a style to French cinema even though at the beginning he did not have the “physique of the job”. His teachers at the conservatory predicted a very obscure future for his acting career. However, it is because he did not try to erase what he was, that he was able to make a place for himself in the 7th art and even in the 6th art (performing arts, theater is part of it). He was able to impose his somewhat battered face in theaters in the late 50s through his participation in the films of Jean-Luc Godard. It is by surfing on the New Wave that he began to break through to the big screen. This brings us to the second point.

Luck favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur

Looking at his career, one would be tempted to say that Jean-Paul Belmondo was very lucky. This is undoubtedly true. Luck is not the fruit of chance, it is a skill like any other. He was lucky because he provoked it on many occasions. His atypical physique in the theater or cinema at the time, halfway between that of a boxer or a young truck driver some would say, was a real advantage when French cinematographic tastes evolved. There was a time when the young leading man was a scrawny figure and looked more like a Greek ephebe than a Heracles muscled by works as varied as they were miraculous. The arrival of American cinema in French cinemas changed the situation: there was now room for virile and muscular figures of which Jean-Paul Belmondo was the archetype. He had arrived at the right time, but not like a hair on the soup, he had worked hard to build his assets that served him later. This brings us to the next point.

Taking a cue from his mentor: Jean-Paul Belmondo’s father

His debonair and casual airs make us forget that Jean-Paul Belmondo was above all a hard worker. He didn’t learn his stubbornness in the boxing gym, but at home, where the father figure was confused with that of the pygmalion. A real workaholic, Paul Belmondo (Jean-Paul’s father) was no less mocked in his younger days when he began his career as a sculptor. Jean-Paul learned from his father the value of work even if he did not know how to put it into practice at school where he proved to be a notorious dunce, his mischievousness was stronger than anything and it led him to be expelled from many schools before joining the prestigious benches of the Paris Conservatory. He embraced an artistic career as did his parents. Without them, one can seriously doubt his will to make a career of clown (it is initially towards this trade that he wanted to direct himself) or of actor. His passion for the circus instilled in him many values, let’s see what they are.

The circus: the school of life

Fascinated by the circus from a very young age, Jean-Paul Belmondo seriously considered becoming a clown, which at the time was a very honorable career, especially in a family of artists like his. Having changed his mind later, he kept with him the values of the circus that he knew how to sublimate throughout his life. He was a simple man in the good sense of the word. He was always close to the people because he looked like them, despite his great success. The circus is a popular show in which the performers risk their lives with each act. Jean-Paul Belmondo did the same thing in the cinema through the many films where he took responsibility for his own stunts. The risk he took each time, I see it as a tribute to the circus jobs he loved so much. The taste for risk, he cultivated it thanks to the noble art that he never abandoned. He was a boxer in his youth before becoming an actor, and afterwards he remained an inveterate fan of this sport. Let’s see this last point and observe how it has impacted his life.

Boxing: the school of punches, the school of life of Jean-Paul Belmondo

It is by receiving punches that he learned to give them. Boxing is also a popular discipline. Its practice put him in contact with the singular hardness of the fight to which is added the euphoria of the victory which follows the tension of being on the front of the scene. Boxing taught him the rudiments of life. He owes his simplicity and his fighting spirit to this sport. The taste for excellence and hard work that he learned from his parents had found another form of expression. Boxing allowed him to channel the natural violence that could emanate from this fiery young man. It is by learning to be close to death on fight nights that he developed a courage and a hero’s stature that will break through on the screen and that will never leave him until the end of his life.

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