Philippe Noiret, who died at 76 on Thursday after a battle with cancer, was one of the world’s great character actors. Americans knew his hangdog face from his performance as the gruff, old projectionist in 1989’s Cinema Paradiso (pictured, above, with Salvatore Cascio) and from his turn as Chilean poet-turned-romance guru Pablo Neruda in Il Postino/The Postman. Of course, there were more than 100 other films, including his breakthrough role as the sad-clown uncle in Louis Malle’s 1960 proto-New Wave pic Zazie dans le métro (see clips of Noiret’s performance here), and the several movies he made for director Bertrand Tavernier, notably, his majestic performance as an officer trying to catalogue France’s World War I dead in 1989’s Life and Nothing But.
There are some fine remembrances of Noiret here and here. Particularly moving is this one from film critic Joe Leydon, who spent a warm and apparently tipsy afternoon with the veteran performer at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. “What is acting for the movies?” the stage trained Noiret asked Leydon. “I’ve never really understood.” But judging by his effortlessly natural screen work, he did understand, deep into his bones.