Prolific screen and legit thesp, writer and director Jean-Claude Brialy, who graced the earliest frames of the then-nascent French New Wave in shorts and features by Rivette, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Malle and Rohmer, died of cancer May 30th at his chateau outside Paris. Rarely absent from the public eye in a five-decade career, the jubilantly likable veteran of some 150 film roles was 74.
Born March 30, 1933 in Algeria where his military officer father was stationed, Brialy excelled at the Strasbourg conservatory before coming to Paris in 1954. Having befriended the Cahiers du Cinema critics who would soon take the plunge into filmmaking, Brialy appeared in Jacques Rivette’s short “Le coup de Berger” (1956), Jean-Luc Godard’s short “All Boys are Named Patrick” (1957) and in “Story of Water” (1957) co-directed by Godard and Truffaut, after his 1956 debut as an extra in Jean Renoir’s “Elena et les Hommes.”
Brialy made a two-pronged splash in back-to-back perfs in Claude Chabrol’s “Le Beau Serge” (1958) and “Les Cousins” (1959) playing diametrically opposed roles as, respectively, a prim and tentative young man and a caustic dandy. Bit parts in Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” and Louis Malle’s fiction debut “Elevator to the Gallows”evolved into fine work as a jaunty newsstand employee reluctant to impregnate Anna Karina in Godard’s “Une femme est une femme” (1960), a memorable starring role as the reserved yet addled groom-to-be in Eric Rohmer’s “Claire’s Knee” (1970) and a prominent turn in Luis Bunuel’s surreal comedy “The Phantom of Liberty” (1974).
With a style that fell somewhere between the athletic insouciance of Jean-Paul Belmondo and the seductive elan of Alain Delon, Brialy wasn’t always as well utilized as he might have been but worked with Gaul’s leading helmers: Agnes Varda, Julien Duvivier, Pierre Kast, Roger Vadim, Philippe de Broca, Bertrand Tavernier, Costa Gavras,Jacques Deray, Henri Verneuil, Claude Lelouch, Andre Techine, among others. Lanky and boyishly handsome in his youth, Brialy remained a lifelong dandy able to convey masculine authority or foppish insouciance as he filled out in later years.
A frequent TV talk show guest and radio commentator, witty and self-deprecating Brialy was an unpretentious living link to such 20th century greats as Cocteau, Fellini and Visconti by way of Picasso and Edith Piaf.
Brialy wrote and directed some ten feature films and staged Sacha Guitry’s plays every chance he got.
In 1986 he bought Paris legit house Les Bouffes Parisiens which he ran until his death. For the past 22 years Brialy programmed an eclectic music festival in the small town of Ramatuelle, not far from Saint-Tropez, luring marquee names with his congenital charm.
Brialy was a committed AIDS activist; an auction he ran with Sophia Loren raised enough money to buy a hospice in Geneva.
Although the thesp appeared in some 80 films between 1957-1977, he considered only 30 of his 150 screen roles to be up to his own standards. Brialy’s sole major award was a Best Supporting Actor Cesar for Andre Techine’s “Les innocents” in 1988.
His compulsively readable anecdote-laden autobiography “Le ruisseau des singes” was a runaway bestseller in 2000, followed by a second memoir in 2004 that Braily performed as a one-man show to great acclaim in 2005.
To be telecast this fall is “Monsieur Max” in which Brialy stars as Jewish and homosexual poet Max Jacob who, despite his conversion to Catholicism, was imprisoned at the Nazi deportation camp in Drancy and died there in 1944.
Brialy’s will states that the chateau he bought in 1959, long before nearby Charles De Gaulle airport was built, serve as a center for artists and performers. He is survived by longtime companion Bruno Finck.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who took office May 16th, announced that he would attend Brialy’s funeral.