French president leads tributes to screen star Jean-Paul Belmondo

French President Emmanuel Macron touches the coffin of Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michel Euler/AP) (AP)
18:50pm, Thu 09 Sep 2021
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France has paid tribute to screen star Jean-Paul Belmondo whom the French president portrayed as the nation’s Everyman in a speech that drew applause and tears from fans, stars and the actor’s family.

The ceremony at the site of Napoleon’s final resting place combined military pomp and precision with the emotion of adoring fans.

Some 1,000 were allowed inside the immense courtyard of the gold-domed monument, while others watched on a big screen from a lawn outside.

“Jean-Paul Belmondo was part of the family, brother, cousin, uncle, seductive friend, outstanding father … in whom we all find a bit of our own” families, Emmanuel Macron said in a eulogy.

Members of the French Republican Guard band stand in front of a portrait of Jean-Paul Belmondo (Ian Langsdon, Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

The star of the iconic French New Wave film Breathless died on Monday at the age of 88.

His death jolted the country into mourning for the man whose crooked boxer’s nose and rakish grin made him one of the country’s most recognisable leading men.

The outpouring of grief reflected Belmondo’s prominent role in France’s cultural world.

“We loved Jean-Paul Belmondo because he resembled us,” Mr Macron said. “Jean-Paul Belmondo was a bit each of us but better.” He was the “friend everyone wanted to have” Mr Macron said.

Recounting memorable scenes, the president reviewed Belmondo’s long career — more than 80 films over six decades.

Republican Guards carry the coffin of Jean-Paul Belmondo after a tribute ceremony for the late French actor at the Hotel des Invalides (Michel Euler/AP) (AP)

The star worked with a variety of major French directors. Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 movie Breathless (A Bout de Souffle in its original French title) brought both men lasting acclaim.

Belmondo, affectionately known as Bebel, played roles from thug to police officer, thief to priest, Cyrano de Bergerac to an unshakable secret agent.

He was also a gifted athlete who often did his own stunts.

“He is an eternal sun,” said grandson Victor in a tribute.

When the sun sets, “it rises elsewhere,” he said in a sometimes trembling voice.

“Have fun with your buddies,” he concluded in a reference to Belmondo’s band of friends who have died.

French actor Jean Dujardin was at the ceremony (Ian Langsdon, Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

To drum rolls, members of the Republican Guard brought the actor’s coffin draped in a French flag into the immense courtyard of Les Invalides.

A portrait of the actor, wearing a cap, a grin and grisly beard, watched over the ceremony, accompanied by military troops in full dress.

Lengthy applause broke out at the end of Mr Macron’s moving speech, and as the coffin was taken out with the Republican Guard orchestra playing the well-known score Chi Mai, from Belmondo’s 1981 film Le Professionnel.

“Adieu, Bebel,” Mr Macron said.

A private funeral for Belmondo is planned on Friday.

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