Jean-Pierre Bacri “wanted to be, like Molière, the ideal mountebank”

INTERVIEW – Journalists Valérie Benaïm and Sandra Freeman co-wrote Jean-Pierre Bacri, the grumpy gentleman (the Archipelago), a biography of the actor which comes out on Tuesday, a year to the day after his death.

A year ago to the day, the most beloved misanthrope of French cinema and theater disappeared. Jean-Pierre Bacri was only 69 years old. He left the image of a committed mountebank, sometimes grumpy but damn sympathetic and some memorable films including The taste of Others for which he co-wrote the screenplay with the woman of his life, the director Agnès Jaoui.

Two journalists, Valérie Benaïm and Sandra Freeman, wanted to come back to this extraordinary comedian’s destiny in a book they mischievously titled: Jean-Pierre Bacri, the grumpy gentleman. For Le Figaro, they explain why they were passionate about “the story of this terribly French man.»

LE FIGARO – Was Jean-Pierre Bacri a grumpy gentleman or rather the personified Alceste of Molière’s Misanthrope?

Valerie BENAIM. – I found that the title of the book summarized well, with this play on words relating to Molière, what it was for the general public and also for the world of acrobats. But it is not wrong to think that he was also a sort of Alceste and Philinte united in one man. He denounced hypocrisy, refused compromises, and despised spinelessness to the highest degree. Without forgetting, and this is an essential point of his personality, he had a taste for others, that is to say he was a good man, a gentleman therefore.

In your book you try to shed light on his complex personality, by going back to his early years…

Sandra FREEMAN. – He spoke very little about his childhood in Algeria, but he had kept a heart connection with his native land. He said: “I am a Jew, therefore, brother of the Arabs. I recognize myself in their culture, their warmth, their way of giving their friendship.It is from there, perhaps, that the solar character described by his most faithful friends was born.

Valerie BENAIM. – Yes, far from being a boy whomakes the mouth» as the legend will say, he is in Cannes a child, an adolescent and then a sunny young man, that is to say full of life. He later darkened the picture of his life, perhaps on purpose, giving the impression that everything had started in Paris with the discovery of the theater and his great love affair with Agnès Jaoui. But deep down, he is both a modest, secret and sometimes just excessive being.

Basically, the man like the actor Bacri is difficult to pin down…

Valerie BENAIM. – It’s a living kaleidoscope and that’s what makes its destiny so interesting. To try to understand him, you have to know that his bedside book is The man without qualities by Robert de Musil. The book will be his philosophical guide. It tells the story of a being who failed to find meaning in his life and in reality. No, because he lacks intelligence, but because his ability to analyze leads him to a sort of passivity, of moral relativism. You see the guy is devilishly complex.

Sandra FREEMAN. – The influence of his father is not to be neglected either. The latter kept telling him that he should treat the powerful and the weak alike, without sycophancy, without condescension. This moral rigor, he made it his own. And that’s why injustices have sometimes pushed him into a rage.

Did his political opinions, against the current or expressed with a form of vehemence, blur his image with the public?

Valerie BENAIM. – Not really, Bacri is not an activist. He is a man who at times reacted strongly with his heart. The public will never take it and I want proof of this, the emotion that his disappearance will cause. Basically, there is something very Bourdieu about him. He doesn’t want to be assigned. He doesn’t want to be the black foot on duty, he doesn’t want to be the Jew on duty, he doesn’t want to be the Cannois, he doesn’t want to be the grump, he always steps aside to stay off the beaten track .

Sandra FREEMAN. – I will add that on his Jewishness, he remained consistent all his life. He said, and this statement can serve as a compass on the path of his life: “I am committed, I am an atheist, I am a Jew. I’m Jewish, because I was born Jewish and I can’t help it. But I don’t wear it like a flag. I am therefore an atheist, which spares me, from the outset, a certain number of problems.»

Isabelle Adjani said of him that he was a “depressed charismatic “. What do you think of double qualifier?

Valerie BENAIM. – It’s pretty but it’s not quite right. He was rather a charismatic actor who kept a lucid look at the things of life. But always an amused, funny look.

All his life, he played Molière’s repertoire. Is there a secret link between these two author actors?

Valerie BENAIM. – I think it’s all there. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin is the ideal playwright, the ideal mountebank for Jean-Pierre Bacri. An author who was so good at depicting the failings, but also the flashes of the human spirit. Jean-Pierre’s first loves are trestles. And they are also perhaps, surely even, his last loves.

Sandra FREEMAN. – And then what immense happiness for him to receive in 2016 the Molière for best actor for his breathtaking composition in Wise women. A real symbol!

Jean-Pierre Bacri, the grumpy gentleman, the Archipelago, €18


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