PARIS — Philippe Noiret, a two-time Cesar winner and veteran of more than 125 films including “Cinema Paradiso” and “Il Postino,” died Thursday of cancer. He was 76.
Although Noiret was never svelte or conventionally handsome, his range, from enviable insouciance to contained authority, appeared to be limitless, aided by a distinctive speaking voice and solid stage training.
Italo critic Aldo Tassone, who heads the French Film Festival in Florence, likened the versatile Noiret to “a French Marcello Mastroianni,” beloved in France, Italy and beyond.
He was perhaps most familiar to international audiences for his perf as the kindly projectionist in Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 “Cinema Paradiso” and as the exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in Michael Radford’s 1994 hit “Il Postino.”
Noiret also made his mark in eight Bertrand Tavernier films, notably as the belatedly inspired police chief in 1981’s sardonic comedy “Coup de torchon” (Clean Slate) and as a French army officer tabulating Gallic casualties in the years after WWI in 1990’s “Life and Nothing But,” for which he won an acting Cesar.
Italian provocateur Marco Ferreri’s scandalous “La Grande bouffe,” in which a group of pals (Noiret, Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli and Ugo Tognazzi) decide to stuff themselves, literally, to death, sold 3 million tickets in 1973.
Noiret starred opposite Romy Schneider in Robert Enrico’s drama “Le Vieux fusil,” one of the top five releases of 1975 and a surefire draw whenever it’s shown on French television. Thesp won the first of two actor Cesars for his portrayal of a grief-wracked doctor who, toward the end of WWII, tracks down the Germans who slaughtered his family.
The film — inspired by harrowing true events — was the first to win best picture when the Cesars were instituted. Tavernier won director that year for “The Judge and the Assassin,” which also starred Noiret as a judge on the trail of a serial killer circa 1893.
Claude Zidi’s “Les Ripoux” (My New Partner), in which Noiret played a suavely crooked cop, racked up nearly 6 million admissions in 1984 and led to two sequels.
Born in Lille, Noiret studied acting at the Comedie de l’Ouest before joining the legendary Jean Vilar’s TNP troupe, with which he performed for seven years.
Agnes Varda, who honed her eye as a photographer for the TNP, gave Noiret his first screen role in her 1954 helming debut, “La Pointe courte.” Noiret and another future star, Silvia Monfort, starred as a young couple trying to “organize” their relationship in a village that’s trying to organize its first workers union. Fittingly, the film, a noted precursor of the French New Wave, also was made cooperatively. Alain Resnais worked on it as an editor.
Although Noiret took a nearly three-decade break from the stage to concentrate on film acting, he returned to the boards with great success in both comedies and dramas starting in 1997.
Noiret, who relished working onscreen with Jean-Claude Rappeneau, Louis Malle, Philippe de Broca and Claude Chabrol, remained faithful to European cinema and never sought a Hollywood career, although he did have roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Topaz” (1969) and Peter Yates’ “Murphy’s War” (1971). Also in 1969, he appeared in George Cukor’s “Justine,” with an international cast including Anouk Aimee.
Noiret’s final legit run was opposite Aimee in 2005 in an acclaimed Paris production of epistolary play “Love Letters.”
Noiret is survived by his wife, Monique, an actress, and their daughter.