Family & Companions
With his slightly stocky frame and a likably average, hangdog face with sad eyes, Philippe Noiret has long been one of the most highly acclaimed and prolific of contemporary French screen actors. Over the years, his exceptional versatility has enabled him to disguise his features in countless ways and to play a wide range of middle-class husbands, fathers and career figures. He had enjoyed ten successful years with the Theatre Nationale Populaire in Paris (and played one or two bit parts in films) before he made his full-fledged film acting debut in Agnes Verde's "La Pointe Courte" in 1954. Noiret first attracted attention in film for his portrayal of the unhappy uncle in Louis Malle's delightfully frantic farce "Zazie Dans Le Metro" (1960) and, soon thereafter, gave an award-winning performance as a stuffy but quietly vengeful husband in Georges Franju's superb adaptation of "Theresa Desqueyroux" (1962).
Noiret continued to do fine work as another husband of a lovely young wife unhappy with him in "La vie de chateau" (1966) and, partly on the strength of a delightfully slothful performance in Yves Robert's "Very Happy Alexander" (1967), he spent a brief period in Hollywood in the late 1960s. He had made his English-language debut in "Lady L" (1965), but his voice was actually dubbed by director Peter Ustinov. Noiret later did his professional best as a French official-cum-Russian agent in Alfred Hitchcock's atypically boring "Topaz" (1969) and did himself up in drag for George Cukor's sadly compromised misfire "Justine" (1969). His best English-language role came with the war adventure "Murphy's War" (1971), in which his quiet oil engineer blithely stole scenes from star Peter O'Toole.
Upon his return to France, Noiret established himself as one of Europe's most versatile performers, teaming beautifully with Annie Girardot for "La vieille fille/The Old Maid" (1971) and winning a Best Actor Cesar for his moving role as a vengeful Army surgeon in Robert Enrico's "Le Vieux Fusil/The Old Gun" (1975). By now beginning to earn comparisons with the great "perennially middle-aged" character stars of earlier French cinema like Raimu, Michel Simon and Harry Baur, Noiret gave another touching performance in Baur's old role as a father neglectful of his son in a good remake of Julien Duvivier's famous "Poil de Carotte/Carrot Top/Redhead" (1973). He later reteamed memorably with Girardot for Philippe de Broca's romantic "Tendre poulet" (1977), took another stab at English-language work for "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?" (1978) and appeared in one of the best of his many Italian co-productions, Francesco Rosi's "I Tre Fratelli/Three Brothers" (1980).
The 70s also marked the beginning of Noiret's long-standing association with filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, one of the most celebrated and important actor-director collaborations in contemporary international cinema. Described by Tavernier as "believable in any social context," Noiret has appeared in nine of the director's films to date, beginning with "The Watchmaker of Saint Paul" (1973), as a man who must deal with his son's flight from the police. He was powerful as the cruelly status-obsessed magistrate in "The Judge and the Assassin" (1976) and was especially memorable as a deceptively bumbling colonial police chief in one of the finest films of his or Tavernier's career, "Coup de Torchon/Clean Slate" (1981). The two continued to work together into the 90s: Tavernier brought Noiret into contact again with Hollywood for his stylish homage to jazz, "'Round Midnight" (1986), and cast him as yet another career solider, this one assigned to count the dead of WWI, in the director's poignant "Life and Nothing But" (1990).
Noiret's iconic status as a veteran gave added resonance to one of his most popular and enjoyable international hits of the 80s, "Les Ripoux/My New Partner" (1984), delightfully pairing his experienced, roguish cop with a dashing, upright novice played by Thierry Lhermitte. (There was, of course, also the inevitable sequel, "My New Partner II" 1990). He continued to work with such distinguished French directors as Claude Chabrol ("Masques" 1987) and Andre Techine ("I Don't Kiss" 1991), and with Italian filmmakers such as Ettore Scola ("The Family" 1987). Beginning in the late 80s, Noiret received some of his widest exposure ever among US audiences with roles which connected his lengthy, distinguished career with the cinema itself and the arts in general. He played the Sicilian projectionist in director Guiseppe Tornatore's sentimental French-Italian ode to cinephilia, "Cinema Paradiso" (1988), and he gave a rich performance as poet, diplomat and political activist Pablo Neruda, giving warm advice on the ways of love and the importance of language to his mail carrier in another arthouse smash, "The Postman (Il Postino)" (1994; released in the USA 1995).
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Made his feature film debut in a bit part as a maitre d'hotel in "Gigi", directed by Jacqueline Audry
Member of the Theatre Nationale Populaire, Paris; appeared in "Richard II", "El Cid", "Don Juan" and "Mary Tudor"
Full-fledged film acting debut, "La Pointe Courte", directed by Agnes Varda
Broadway debut in "Lorenzaccio"
Made English-language film debut in "Lady L", with his dialogue dubbed by Peter Ustinov
Full fledged Hollywood film debut, "Justine"
One-shot acting role in a US TV-movie, "Aurora"