‘I am a boy who got lucky in life’

«Everyone is born with a small light, a star, over their heads and if you follow this star in your life, one day you will see that it has grown into an aura that surrounds you.» Jean-Claude Brialy, the formidable actor who was a central figure of the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague), followed his light, broke away from the life in uniform being forced upon him by his officer father and, quite by chance, found himself at the center of Paris’s intelligentsia, elite and glitterati. Just a few days shy of 72, the prolific, Algeria-born actor – who has appeared in some 200 films and theater plays under the direction of great masters Jean Renoir, Claude Chabrol, Louis Malle, Jacques Rivette, Jean-Luc Godard, Roberto Rossellini, Agnes Varda and a slew of others – is still busy with new productions, is the director of a theater (the Theatre des Bouffes-Parisienne), dreams of playing in a film written just for him and gets behind the camera too. Dapper, effusive and charming, Brialy was in Athens this week to present his latest book, «J’ai oublie de vous dire» (I Forgot to Tell You), and met with a small group of journalists at the French Embassy at the invitation of Ambassador Bruno Delaye. Surprisingly, for a man of such accomplishments, his book is not an autobiography, but is a delight for anyone who loves to read juicy stories about some of the most famous personalities of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. «The lives of other people are often more interesting than one’s own,» said Brialy, explaining why he didn’t write about himself. «When I was, basically, forced to write the book, I asked myself: ‘Who will be interested in this book? What is important about my life?’ I’m not Einstein, or Pasteur, Moliere, or Shakespeare.» Brialy described himself as a «boy who got lucky enough to do what I love in life.» «When I was in the army, I didn’t know anybody in Paris,» he went on to recount. «I’d never had the chance to meet a writer or a great actor. I was a complete virgin. All I knew were military types. And then, through a chance encounter [with Philippe de Broca], I met the people who adopted me: Albert Camus, Boris Vian, Jean Cocteau. Later, I met Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas because I had a reputation for being funny, amusing and kind.» His character served him well and, over the years, Brialy became not just a famous Paris personality, but also a star of great proportion, though he made it clear he does not rank himself among the famous jeunes premiers of the time, such as Alain Delon. «I was never a jeune premier. I never considered myself handsome. I had charm maybe, but I was not handsome. Anyway, I think there is a difference between actors who are well known or stars like Alain Delon, who was very handsome, and Jean-Paul Belmondo, who was not that handsome, but was very charming. «It is women who choose the actors. They take their husbands to the cinema and say, ‘Look at the man I would like to cheat on you with.’ I never really excited women that much. I was never a sex symbol. I was the funny one, elegant, a bit decadent, a bit crazy.» Nevertheless, Brialy admitted to having had a bit of a complex in the early days of his career: «My first acting job was with Alain Delon. He was so handsome that when he entered a room, all the women would faint. Then the men, the cats, the dogs…» Along with Jeanne Moreau and Belmondo, Brialy is considered among the most central actors of the French New Wave, a movement that rejuvenated French cinema and transformed cinema around the world in the late 1950s and ’60s. Changing the hero «The Nouvelle Vague was a movement that swept away decor, studios, editing and even lights, as film became more sensitive. People like Jean-Luc Godard revolutionized world cinema. I know Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman and they have told me that they wouldn’t be where they are today… if it had not been for Jean-Paul Belmondo in ‘A bout de souffle,’ because he all of a sudden changed the way certain filmmakers viewed the jeunes premiers or the heroes of the time: They had to be manly, athletic, with a certain Greek profile. All of a sudden, Godard chose a character who was animated, who could have been anyone.» The French New Wave though, explained Brialy, was mostly about stories. «We tried to tell stories that were related to reality, to nature, to the everyday. But, the importance of television overshadowed the Nouvelle Vague, unfortunately or fortunately for us. When we switch on the television and see the stories, they are often more real than reality… It is becoming more and more difficult to stun people with images… «I think that today, French cinema is regaining life and strength. There are young directors who are a bit influenced by American cinema but have also understood that a film must have rhythm, action. «Unfortunately, after the Nouvelle Vague, there were many directors who took themselves for Godard, Chabrol or Truffaut but who didn’t have the talent, the sensitivity or imagination…» During the one-and-a-half hours Brialy sat with the journalists at the embassy, he told stories, analyzed cinema, remembered friends and gave advice. One page is just not enough to capture this explosive character. But he leaves young people with a wish: «The best gift in the world is to leave for work and be happy… To know what freedom is… People lose their heads over money. Romantics used to lose their heads over a woman: They’d kill themselves, they were capable of stealing, to do anything for a woman… now it’s about money and that’s really sad.» And a piece of advice: «It is important to find people who are brilliant, who will give something of themselves. And when we find people who are a bit lost, we should take them by the hand and help them understand things.»

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