Jean-Louis Trintignant, who died aged 91, was a star of French new wave cinema and burst onto the international scene in the 1966 film A man and a woman (A man and a woman).
He plays a racing driver who finds love again with a widow, played by Anouk Aimée, following the suicide of his wife. Their sensitive performances, alongside director Claude Lelouch’s visually stunning imagery and Francis Lai’s sentimental music, won him two Oscars and the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or.
But Trintignant insisted he preferred his hairpin turns in Monte Carlo to love scenes with Aimée, which he found awkward because she was a friend of his second wife, director Nadine Marquand.
Ten years earlier, Trintignant’s career in France had taken off with And God created the woman (And God created the woman) when he took on the role of the uncool Michel, who beats his brother, in the lush surroundings of Saint-Tropez, at the hand in marriage of the free-spirited young woman of Brigitte Bardot but finds that she continues to grant favors to other men.
The film made Bardot a star – and a sex symbol – and Trintignant had a high-profile affair with her that marked the end of her first marriage to Stéphane Audran. After the success of A man and a womanone of the leading directors of the new wave, Claude Chabrol, brought additional interest to the story of the menage à trois The Hinds (1968) casting Trintignant alongside Audran, then his own wife. He played an architect embroiled in a relationship between the poor student of Jacqueline Sassard and the wealthy older wife of Audran.
Romance was traded for drama at the edge of your seat when Costa-Gavras directed it in Z (1969) as a tenacious prosecutor investigating the death of politician Yves Montand – based on the true story of the assassination of a Greek pacifist. Trintignant’s performance won him the Best Actor award at Cannes.
He then reversed roles and played the assassin – taking orders from the fascist government in pre-World War II Italy – when director Bernardo Bertolucci cast him in another political thriller. The conformist (1970).
But the actor known for his innate shyness turned down an offer from Bertolucci to star in Last Tango in Paris (1972), letting Marlon Brando navigate the controversial film.
Trintignant returned to both the romance and dramatic heights of his early films in the 2012 Oscar and Bafta-winning heartbreaker Love. Austrian director Michael Haneke persuaded him to come out of on-screen retirement to play the retired piano teacher who cares for his wife (Emmanuelle Riva) as her health slowly deteriorates, a moving performance that oscillates between love and frustration.
Jean-Louis Xavier Trintignant was born in the commune of Piolenc du Vaucluse, in the south of France, to Claire and Raoul Trintignant.
Like his character in A man and a woman, two of Trintignant’s uncles, Maurice and Louis, were professional racing drivers, while the actor himself got behind the wheel for fun as a rally driver. He left Aix-en-Provence law school after a year when he went stage-mad after seeing a theatrical production of Molière’s comedy The Miser and moved to Paris to study theater at the national school of cinema IDHEC – Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies.
The roles in the theater follow one another and, in 1955, he made his film debut in If all the guys in the world (title race for life international), playing a radio operator receiving signals from a distressed fishing boat crew dying of food poisoning.
He survived his affair with Bardot not only by leaving for national service for two years but, upon his return, by being cast in a new wave version of Dangerous relationships (1959) as the charming Danceny music teacher.
Trintignant reunited with Aimee and Lelouch for the film’s sequels A Man and A Woman: 20 years already (A man and a woman: 20 years later1986) and 2019 The Best Years of a Life (The best years of a life), with Trintignant sick in a retirement home and Aimée running a shop.
His other significant film roles include Simone Signoret’s lover in the Costa-Gavras-directed crime thriller. Compartment Killers1965), a drug dealer Trans-Europ-Express (1966) and a devout Catholic engineer resisting the advances of an attractive widow in Eric Rohmer My Night at Maud’s (My night with Maud1969) while saving himself for a woman he is sure to marry but has never met.
Trintignant turned down roles in Dating of the Third Kind (1977) and Revelation now (1979) after moving to the south of France to live in a medieval house in Uzès. Becoming more reclusive himself, he only occasionally stepped out of his rural lifestyle when he was tempted by roles such as a reclusive judge in Red (1994), the last by Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski Three colours trilogy.
Later, Haneke brought him out of retirement again to Happy ending (2017) to revive his Love character, now suffering from dementia and determined to end his life.
His autobiography, On the side of Uzeswas released in 2012.
Trintignant’s first two marriages, to Audran (1954-56) and Marquand (1960-76), both ended in divorce. He is survived by his third wife, Marianne Hoepfner, endurance pilot whom he married in 2000, and Vincent, the son from his second marriage. He and Marquand’s other children, Pauline and Marie, predeceased him.
Jean-Louis Trintignant, actor, born December 11, 1930, died June 17, 2022