7 landmark performances by Jean-Pierre Léaud

#7 – THE BIRTH OF LOVE (1993) by Philippe Garrel
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In the years of the fade-out of the French New Wave and the downfall in popularity of arthouse cinema in favour of more commercial and easily marketable cinematic spectacles, many actors who were associated with said cinema of the sixties and the seventies inevitably seemed to take a step back. Léaud acted in a number of films, but it wasn’t until 1993, with The Birth of Love, that he returned to play a role that can be considered a landmark one, particularly in his own process of evolution on the big screen.
Philippe Garrel has been consistently making interesting films, though not as readily accessible as Truffaut or Godard, since the French New Wave, and so it is no wonder that in using Léaud, he would specifically call to the very same features that made the actor a popular, romantic heart-throb. Despite having acquired some wrinkles, the charm and good looks are still there. What’s changed is that, for the first time, his self-absorbed, pseudo-intellectual ramblings, have turned him without really trying, into a whiny, middle-aged man.
More than a physical transmutation, Léaud is lending his cinematic persona to a situation that speaks of a man who ignores the reality of the loss of intimacy with his wife. When she leaves him, quite abruptly, he awakens to his vulnerabilities, to a sense of mortality. A second, and just as important, storyline, sees actor Lou Castel play the role of a man who discovers second youth through a romantic escapade with a younger woman. His personality is, in any case, far more adventurous.
In seeing Léaud unchanged, we revisit the many praiseworthy turns of his acting career, particularly the one in The Mother and the Whore, and see what in the long run could have become of his characters later in life. The outcome, it seems, is ironic, tragic and slightly absurd. The Birth of Love is a film about ageing and the longing for familiar comfort. It seems that the latter thing in particular is the thing that all Léaud’s most memorable characters sought the most.
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