Gerard Blain, an intense vet of 44 pics as a thesp and eight as helmer, died Dec. 17 in Paris of cancer. He was 70.
Blain died one year to the day after the death of his friend Robert Bresson, to whom his directing style was most often compared.
Known as “the French James Dean,” Blain was an extra in Marcel Carne’s “Children of Paradise” as a boy but was “discovered” at the counter of a cafe off the Champs-Elysees by iconic thesp Jean Gabin and helmer Julien Duvivier. They insisted the producers cast him in Duvivier’s “Voici le Temps des Assassins” (1956).
After that, Blain starred opposite his then-wife Bernadette Lafont in Francois Truffaut’s first short, “Les Mistons” (1957). He gave a seething perf as a troubled, hard-drinking young husband in Claude Chabrol’s first feature, 1958’s “Le Beau Serge,” the film that is often cited as having started the New Wave. Blain appeared again for Chabrol that same year in “Les Cousins.”
As was the custom for handsome leading men in the era, Blain also acted in Italy, notably in Carlo Lizzani’s “The Hunchback of Rome” (1960). Blain hit Hollywood’s radar and performed in “Hatari!” for Howard Hawks in 1962.
Although he acted less and less after his directing debut in 1970, Blain appeared in Wim Wenders’ “The American Friend” (1977), Edouard Niermans’ 1987 “Poussiere d’Ange” (Angel Dust) and Olivier Assayas’ “L’Enfant de l’Hiver” (1989).
His first picture as a director, “Les Amis,” won the top prize in Locarno in 1971. Blain’s formal and austere style led to immediate comparisons with Bresson, with whom Blain was a friend and staunch supporter for three decades.
Blain wrote or co-wrote all his screenplays and relied mostly upon non-professional actors, with 1978’s “A Second Wind” with Robert Stack a notable exception.
Blain’s most recent film, 1999’s “Ainsi Soit-il,” began with an uncomfortably long, uncompromising shot of earth being tossed onto a coffin, and the director had taken to telling interviewers “I’ll be dead soon.” He had nonetheless recently finished writing a new screenplay, “Profession: Star,” in which such luminaries as Johnny Hallyday and Robert Hossein were reportedly set to star.
Blain received an honorary Golden Leopard at Locarno in 1999 for his body of work. He is survived by four sons.