Michel Bouquet, a French actor whose talent for suggesting passion and turmoil under a drab, middle-class facade made him a favorite of New Wave directors, has passed away. He was 96.
The Élysée Palace, the office of the French president, announced the death of Mr Bouquet on Wednesday. The press release did not give a cause of death.
Bouquet, one of France’s greatest theater actors, found a special place in film in the late 1960s and 1970s, playing ordinary Frenchmen, gloomy and reserved, with complicated inner lives and deep reserves of emotion, a contrast enhanced by his impassive, unsuspecting face.
He played the deadly jealous husband in Claude Chabrol’s “Unfaithful Wife” (1969) and the advertising executive who led a double life in that director’s “Just Before Nightfall” (1971). He was also one of Jeanne Moreau’s unfortunate victims in the François Truffaut film “The Bride Wore Black” (1968).
Mr. Bouquet, an actor of great reach, was at home in both comedy and drama, in both sympathetic and unsympathetic roles, such as the unsavory detective Comolli in the 1969 film “Mississippi Mermaid” by Mr. Truffaut.
mr. Bouquet appeared in over 100 films and won a new generation of admirers with his 1991 performance as the older incarnation of the title character in “Toto the Hero.” His two best actors Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscar, came when he was in his 70s. The first was for his subdued menacing performance in “How I Killed My Father” (2001), as a worthless parent who sows emotional chaos when he re-enters the lives of his sons.
“He’s a very original actor,” Anne Fontaine, the director of “How I Killed My Father,” said of Mr. Bouquet in a 2002 interview with DailyExpertNews, noting that she had written the role with him in mind. “Even if he has a really relaxed and smiling look, there’s something about his acting that’s disturbing, destabilizing, that creates weirdness all the time.” He sometimes described himself as ‘a calm anarchist’.
Mr. Bouquet won a second César for his tour de force as François Mitterrand, the ailing French president, in “The Last Mitterrand” (2005).
“Charming, arrogant, childlike and teasing in turn, Bouquet offers a masterclass in understated character acting, delivering an indelible interpretation of a complex, enraged man,” London’s The Daily Telegraph wrote of that performance.
Michel Francois Pierre Bouquet was born on November 6, 1925 in Paris, the son of Georges and Marie (Monot) Bouquet. His mother was a hatter. His father was an officer in the French army who was captured by the Nazis shortly after the invasion of France. To help support the family, Michel worked as an apprentice at a pastry chef and as a bank clerk.
Encouraged by actor Maurice Escande, he began studying at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Paris and, after acting in a production of Albert Camus’ “Caligula”, took his first major role in Jean’s “Roméo et Jeannette” anouilh.
He continued to build a distinguished theater career, in which he became best known for his work in plays by Molière, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Eugène Ionesco and Thomas Bernhard.
“This is a very lonely profession, just like painting,” he told the French newspaper Sud Ouest in 2011. “You do it in public, but the essence of it is secret.”
He made his first film appearances in 1947, as a hitman in “Criminal Brigade” and as a consumer in “Monsieur Vincent”, a biography of St. Vincent de Paul. Two years later, he offered a hint of things to come in “Pattes Blanches”, based on a play by Mr. Anouilh, in which he portrays a beaten up aristocrat who is hopelessly in love with the young girlfriend of the local innkeeper.
He later provided the narrator’s voice in Alain Resnais’ historical Holocaust documentary “Night and Fog” (1956).
In 1965, he made the first of his half-dozen films starring Mr. Chabrol, the campy secret agent movie “The Tiger Smells Like Dynamite,” followed by his signature performances in “The Unfaithful Wife” and “Just Before Nightfall.” †
The talents of Mr. Bouquet were ideally suited to Mr. Chabrol’s chilling explorations of love, violence and moral ambiguity. As Charles Desvallées, the jealous husband in “The Unfaithful Wife”, he cooked, plotted, suffered and eventually sent his wife’s lover, played by Stéphane Audran.
Mr. Bouquet’s marriage to Ariane Borg, an actress, ended in divorce. She died in 2007. In 1970, he married Juliette Carré, who survives him, according to the Élysée press release. Mrs. Carré, also an actress, often appeared on stage with Mr. Bouquet.
Bouquet (who was not related to actress Carole Bouquet) continued acting well into his later years, appearing in Molière’s “Hypochondriac” on stage in 2008 and in the films “La Petite Chambre” in 2010 (released as “The Little Bedroom ” in US theaters in 2014) and “The Origin of Violence” in 2016. In 2014, he was nominated for another best actor César for his role as the title character in “Renoir”.