Known as the “Godfather of Modern Art,” Michel Piccoli is a French artist, photographer and film director having a prolific career spanning 70 years. Born in Corsica, he moved to Paris during the 1950’s where he honed his skills as an illustrator and painter. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Louvain and then studied painting at the prestigious academy of Fine Arts in Florence.
Piccoli’s career spanned many decades and during this time he was also a key figure in the world of art, literature and cinema. He is one of the most popular and important names in French artists who ranked alongside such notable figures as Paul Gauguin, Albert Camus and Paul Morisset. Most importantly though, he was one of the first modern artists to be associated with the avant-garde movement, which has since become synonymous with anti-war and anti-capitalism. For this reason, his work became especially important to those that espousing these beliefs.
On October 11th, 2021, Michel Piccoli will celebrate his seventy-year milestone and as it turns one, many are going home to pay tribute. Most notable amongst these is the surviving member of The Royal Ballet of Versailles, Honor La MA crown prince Nicholas. The Princess was one of the most famous members of the Royal Court, and as her death approaches many are starting to remember her and what she meant to the French theatre, culture and society in general. Additionally, many are going to be remembering their love of Piccoli and his contributions over the years.
The death of the Princess of Burgundy by her husband, Pierre Bezalel (Michel Piccoli), in 1966 was a turning point for the French film industry. Like many other great artists before him, Piccoli had created a unique style of storytelling that incorporated elements of tragedy, romance and comedy. His first two feature films, La Pointe Courte, and Le Deseu de la Meuse, are still regarded as some of the best movies ever made by the French film industry. These pictures also helped pave the way for the career of Jean-Louis Vuitton, who would go on to star in the equally successful L’Auto du Coubertin, and has worked with the director on numerous other films. The fact that both Piccoli and Vuitton are now amongst the ranks of directors that are household names is a testament to the immense impact that they had on the industry.
Following in the footsteps of La Pointe Courte, Piccoli next went onto produce Melville, which won eight awards at the Cannes Film Festival that year. The film did not receive an English release until decades later, and even then it was only in the US. It is a film that many consider to be one of the greatest ever made by a male director, and although Melville did not receive the acceptance that it deserves from the English film community, it has still managed to achieve great success worldwide. In terms of its story, it tells the story of a young woman who is sold into slavery, and the very wealthy and powerful businessman who rescues her.
Although the beginning of his career was difficult, Piccoli managed to score two major films, Le Radieux, and Le Divan, which were later turned into the well received Nuits d’Avignon and Piccoli’s own poetic epic, Amour Fou. After working with both the director of Melville, Piccoli moved on to direct and produce several movies in the genre. Some of his most famous works include Invictus, which were later made into a motion picture by Ben Hur, and then The Man Who Played With Light, which he wrote and starred in as a leading man. Also later in his career, Piccoli would collaborate with Vincent Coppens to produce the movie The Artist, which again was not well received by the English film community. Later in his career he would produce the musical Les Miscellaniers and also wrote and directed No Man’s Land.
Piccoli’s most infamous role would be the lead role of Jacque Fresco in the film Les Exorcist, which was to be turned into a movie of equal success with Amour Fou. Another one of his best known works would be Casino, which despite not receiving the kind of critical acclaim that it deserved, nevertheless did pretty well at the box office. Though not a particularly exciting film, Casino did manage to garner a number of awards for the quality of its special effects, and the acting performances of its stars, particularly Edith Hepburn. Other great movies that feature Piccoli include Fanny And Maria, which won him an Academy Award, and Casanova, which was perhaps more considered a commercial failure, but still managed to rake in a slew of awards including Best Picture and Best Director.
If there is one actor from the French cinema that can safely be included in this hallowed list of greatest French cinema actors, it has to be Catherine Deneuve. She may have only spent two films in English, but in doing so she managed to not only establish herself as an amazing and talented actress, but also as a truly wonderful human being. Her portrayal of the character of Lola, the cold and calculating beauty, who falls in love with an American servicemen in World War II is perhaps Piccoli’s best known role and remains a firm favourite with film buffs. It also completely changed the way that women were depicted in Hollywood and made the female roles that thereafter came in much more interesting and engaging. There are few female actors who can lay claim to having such a varied career, and when combined with the quality of work that Piccoli achieved, makes them even more legendary.