The son of a wealthy industrialist, Jean-Louis Trintignant was born on 11th December 1930 at Piolenc in the department of Vaucluse in southeast France. As a boy, he had ambitions of following in the footsteps of his uncle, the well-known motor racing driver Maurice Trintignant. In 1949, Trintignant began to study law at Aix-en-Provence, but, at the age of 19, he found a sudden passion for acting, having seen Charles Dullin’s stage production of Molière’s L’Avare. He abandoned his studies and took drama classes in Paris, under Charles Dullin and Tania Balachova. Trintignant claimed that acting is what allowed him to overcome his chronic shyness.
Trintignant made his stage debut in 1951 in a production of À chacun selon sa faim with Raymond Hermantier’s theatre company. Having spent a few years in theatre practicing his art, he then made up his mind to become a film director. He studied filmmaking technique at the prestigious film school IDHEC (Institut des hautes études cinématographiques), although it would be twenty years before he made his first film, Une journée bien remplie (1972). This, and the next film he made, Le Maître-nageur (1979), proved to be major flops, and so Trintignant’s hopes for a successful filmmaking career were effectively dashed.
Jean-Louis Trintignant began appearing in films in the mid-1950s. Having taken a few bit parts, he was given his first significant film role in Christian-Jaque’s Si tous les gars du monde (1956). Later that year he found international fame when he starred opposite Brigitte Bardot in Roger Vadim’s Et Dieu... créa la femme (1956). Trintignant’s brief affair with Bardot attracted the attention of the world’s press and destroyed Vadim’s marriage to the actress. Trintignant escaped the media maelstrom by going off and doing his military service. He served in the Algerian War and was profoundly affected by what he experienced during the conflict. Three years of military life were enough for him and he returned to civilian life eager to resume his acting career. Having won praise for his stage portrayal of Hamlet, he was given another important film role by Roger Vadim, appearing alongside Jeanne Moreau and Gérard Philipe in an updated version of Les Liaisons dangereuses (1960).
Trintignant’s long association with Italian cinema began with Valerio Zurlini’s Estate violenta (1959), followed by Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso (1962), one of his biggest successes in Italy. Around this time, he met and married Stéphane Audran, although the marriage was short-lived and the actress left him to marry director Claude Chabrol. Claude Lelouch’s Oscar winning Un homme et une femme (1966) brought Trintignant another dose of international celebrity and established him as one of France’s leading film stars. In 1968, he won the Silver Bear Best Actor award at the Berlin International Film Festival for Alain Robbe-Grillet’s L’Homme qui ment (1968).
In 1968, Jean-Louis Trintignant married the actress and film director Nadine Marquand, with whom he would make several films, including some with their daughter Marie. The couple had three children, but two would die in tragic circumstances - Pauline was a victim of cot death; Marie, a prominent actress, was killed when she was 41, in the course of a violent dispute with her boyfriend, Bertrand Cantat. The couple later divorced and Trintignant subsequently married the famous racing driver Marianne Hoepfner in 1984.
In the 1960s and 70s, Trintignant became particularly associated with the political thriller, an increasingly popular genre in France and the kind of film that seemed to fit the actor’s cool but sensitive persona perfectly. Of the many political thrillers he appeared in, the best known are: Alain Cavalier’s Le Combat dans l’île (1962), Costa-Gavras’s Z (1969) (which won him the Best Actor award at Cannes in 1969), Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il conformista (a.k.a. The Conformist) (1970) (which he rates as one of his best roles) and Yves Boisset’s L’Attentat (1972). Other notable thrillers include Jacques Deray’s Flic Story (1975) (in which he makes an effective contrast with Alain Delon), Michel Deville’s Eaux profondes (1981) and François Truffaut’s swansong Vivement dimanche! (1983).
Whilst Jean-Louis Trintignant had a very strong presence in mainstream French cinema for the best part of three decades, he also appeared in several notable auteur pieces. These include: Eric Rohmer’s Ma nuit chez Maud (1969), Ettore Scola’s La Terrazza (1980) and Alain Tanner’s La Vallée fantôme (1987), in which the actor gives some of his best performances. Trintignant’s later appearances in Jacques Audiard’s Regarde les homes tomber and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Trois couleurs Rouge totally transformed his screen persona and allowed him to make a high profile comeback in the mid-1990s.
Trintignant’s early ambitions to become a racing car driver were finally fulfilled in the 1970s, when, having taken lessons in the sport, he began to compete in various races and rallies, including the Le Mans 24 Hours (in 1980) and the Monte-Carlo Rally (in 1982 and 1984). In 1996, he gave up racing and bought a vineyard just outside Nîmes in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. It was career move that suited him and within a few years he had become one of the region’s most successful viticulturists. Jean-Louis Trintignant has not turned his back on the profession that made him famous and which he remains passionate about. Since 2000, he periodically puts in an appearance in French cinema, although he prefers to devote his acting energies to the theatre, the place where he discovered the histrionic art and made it his first mistress.
© James Travers 2012
Jean-Louis Trintignant is best-known for the following films:
The Film DirectorJean-Louis Trintignant directed the following films:
The ActorJean-Louis Trintignant has appeared in the following films:
The WriterJean-Louis Trintignant contributed to the screenplay for the following films: