Michel Subor, a French actor who rose to international acclaim for his lead performance in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 feature “Le Petit Soldat” and his narration for François Truffaut’s 1962 romance “Jules et Jim,” died on Monday in a French hospital following a car accident. He was 86 years old.
News of Subor’s death was shared by director Claire Denis on her Instagram and reported by the daily French newspaper Libération. Subor and Denis had collaborated numerous times over the past decades, with their partnership beginning with Subor’s performance in Denis’ 1999 feature “Beau Travail.”
“Michel Subor, the big little soldier is dead,” Denis wrote. Her words have been translated from French. “Our Bruno, the commander.”
Born Mischa Subotzki in Paris, France on Feb. 2, 1935, Subor was raised by parents who had immigrated from the Soviet Union a few years earlier. Subor’s career as an actor began with smaller parts, playing roles alongside Dany Robin in 1955’s “Frou-Frou,” Jean-Paul Belmondo in 1958’s “Un drôle de dimanche” and Jean Richard in 1959’s “Mon pote le gitan.” His first lead performance came with Roger Vadim’s 1961 sex comedy “Le Bride sur le Cou” in which he starred alongside Brigitte Bardot. Subor is also featured in François Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim,” one of the most enduring features of the French New Wave, as the film’s narrator.
In 1960, Subor collaborated with actress Anna Karina and director Jean-Luc Godard on “Le Petit Soldat,” the filmmaker’s follow-up to his landmark 1960 debut “Breathless.” The film faced controversy at the time for its depiction of the use of torture by French and Algerian forces in the Algerian Revolution. France banned the film for three years, with its delayed release making it Godard’s fourth released film after being the director’s second complete production. In the film, Subor plays Bruno Forestier, a young man who deserts the French army and becomes entangled in the espionage of the Algerian War, despite having no serious political beliefs.
Over the years, Subor has acted in dozens of French and American screen projects, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Topaz” (1969), Jean-Louis Bertucelli’s “The Imprecator” (1977) and Paul Gégauff’s The Reflux (1965). He began an enduring creative partnership with director Claire Denis with “Beau Travail,” which operates as a possible sequel to “Le Petit Soldat,” as Subor plays a character named Bruno Forestier, though much older and in military service as a Foreign Legion commander. Subor continued to play a large role in Denis’ work, starring in 2004’s “The Intruder” and appearing in 2009’s “White Material.” His last film performance came with a supporting role in Denis’ 2013 noir “Bastards.”