France pays emotional tribute to New Wave actor Belmondo

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Republican Guards carry the coffin of Jean-Paul Belmondo after a tribute ceremony for the late French actor at the Hotel des Invalides, Thursday, Sept.9 2021 in Paris. The tributes for the star of iconic French New Wave film "Breathless" reflect his prominent role in France's cultural world and in living rooms, where families gathered around his films. Belmondo, whose crooked boxer's nose and rakish grin made him one of the country's most recognizable leading men, died at 88 earlier this week. (AP Photo/ Michel Euler)

PARIS – France paid tribute on Thursday to screen legend Jean-Paul Belmondo, whom President Emmanuel Macron portrayed as the nation's Everyman in a solemn homage 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 the emotion of adoring fans. Some 1,000 were allowed inside the immense courtyard of the gold-domed Les Invalides monument, while others watched on a big screen from a lawn outside. Fans would also be able to see the coffin in a special evening viewing.

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

The star of the iconic French New Wave film “Breathless” died Monday aged 88. His death jolted the country into mourning for the actor whose crooked boxer's nose and rakish grin made him one of the country's most recognizable leading men.

The grief reflected Belmondo's prominent role in France’s cultural world and in its living rooms, where families gathered to watch his old films on TV.

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

Recounting memorable scenes, the president reviewed Belmondo's long career — more than 80 films over six decades. 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 unshakable secret agent. He was also a gifted athlete who often did his own stunts.

For his family, Belmondo was still more. With his constant smile and positive outlook, “he is an eternal sun,” said his grandson, Victor, in a tribute. “Have fun with your buddies,” he concluded in a reference to Belmondo's friends who predeceased him.

Many fans inside and outside the Invalides donned rakish caps like those that have come to identify Belmondo, or concocted outfits to resemble him in his film roles.

“Hats off to the artist because he’s really a guy who deserves that we be here for him and thank him for the panache he had in all his films,” said Frederic Zamparini, 55, in an outlandish costume like what Belmondo wore in the 1980 French-Italian comedy “Le Guignolo” — red polka-dot briefs and top hat.

“My heart is sinking. He was our best ambassador abroad,” said long-time fan Lucie Guyot-Bond.

To drum rolls, members of the Republican Guard brought the actor's coffin draped in a French flag into the courtyard of Les Invalides. A portrait of the actor in a cap, a grin and a grizzled beard stood over the ceremony, accompanied by military troops in full dress.

Protracted applause broke out at the end of Macron's speech, and as the coffin was taken out with the band playing the score “Chi Mai,” from Belmondo's 1981 film “Le Professionnel” (The Professional).

“Adieu, Bebel,” Macron said.

Internationally-acclaimed singer Charles Aznavour was also honored at Les Invalides after his death in October 2018. Belmondo was among those attending that ceremony.

A private funeral for Belmondo is planned Friday.


Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed.