One of the many great pleasures of Claude Sautet’s marvellous Vincent, François, Paul ….et les autres (Claude Sautet, France, 1974) is to see Gérard Depardieu, at the beginning of his film career in 1974, the very same year he became a star with Bertrand Blier’s Les Valseuses alongside Patrick Dewaere and Miou-Miou.
In Vincent, François, Paul ….et les autres, he plays Jean Lavallée, a factory worker and part-time boxer who is one of ‘les autres’ in the title: not a starring part but a beefy supporting role. He’s Vincent’s surrogate son – the son of one of Vincent’s childhood friends since passed away — and their interaction here — loving, affectionate, physical — is a champions meet of working class heroes; from different generations but speaking the same language.
I want to write about Yves Montand’s great characterisation of Vincent in another post. Here I just wanted to draw attention to Depardieu, partly because he’s young, coltish, graceful; so many qualities we no longer associate with his star persona but which nonetheless inform it; and also because he has this marvellous nervous energy – Judy Garland, Jane Fonda, and James Cagney all had it – that is electric and seems to displace air.
He’s completely relaxed and capable of stillness and focus but also gives the impression that he prefers running to walking; that he’s so alive he’s constantly in process of becoming: each of his character’s reaction will be one amongst limitless possibilities and a continual surprise to the viewer.
His face is all angles; it’s at once the face of an everyman – it’s not quite pretty – yet surpasses mere handsomeness and brings us into the realm of beauty. His body is also that of a fit young man but awkwardly shaped too; already the tummy’s too round, the legs aren’t long or strong enough, the muscles those of someone who will most likely be ko’d in the next round.
His is an image possible to identify with and of course Depardieu’s acting make that identification not only easy but almost inevitable. It’s good to remind ourselves of that with Depardieu. Plus, is there a more fearless actor? Here he’s got a shower scene where Michel Piccoli, Serge Reggianni, and at least half a dozen other actors, all fully dressed, are congratulating and arguing with him in the shower and he’s the only one nude. Is there a bigger nightmare for an actor? It’s a complex shot too, the camera starts on Depardieu, moves away from him to the point where his pubic area is clearly visible but then fixes on Michel Piccoli’s Franćois and follows him out of the room. It must have taken many takes to get it so right. It’s a scene completely unimaginable a generation earlier; one that few actors of his generation would have dared and that fewer still would dare do today.
Daring and danger: