A little over a week ago, it could be seen on Portuguese television. RTP2 showed Peter Handke’s handsome film The Lefthanded Woman, and in one of the first scenes there, almost stealthily, Michael Lonsdale, as a waiter at a luxury restaurant, serving the couple formed by Bruno Ganz and Edith Clever. His presence, like an elegant but distant shadow, seductive but cold, and the restlessness that results from this equation, serve as a premonition of what will happen a few hours later to the couple Ganz and Clever.
Obviously, it will not be for this scene, almost harmless and in an obvious register of “special participation”, that Michael Lonsdale (died on the night of September 20 to 21, at 89 years old) will be remembered. But it’s as good a scene as any, or even better than many, to try and end your mystery as a movie actor; and as a film actor, wherever he goes, wherever he is, whatever he represents, he always wears a shadow, a hidden face, a hidden truth.
In an obituary published in the French daily Liberation, the critic Luc Chessel spoke of Evil, and of Lonsdale as an actor whose cinematographic character put him in permanent contact with him – and, who knows, maybe it is what the producers of 007 saw in Lonsdale when they invited him to the villain of “Moonraker,” the role the general public remembers most (and which, being just a point in the actor’s journey) , is symptomatic of its characteristic: the constant circuit between the most radically personal and idiosyncratic cinema and its most popular expressions).
Maybe it was Evil, or maybe nothing more abstract, just the coexistence of light and shadow as two halves of the same face, one hiding the other. Another who also saw this in Lonsdale was Luís Buñuel, who in a small role in Phantom of Liberty also rhymed elegance with somber perversity – Lonsdale was the distinguished gentleman who proved to be a follower of sadomasochism and to whip his tail. . Another small role, yes, but one which embodies the aura of the actor, and in fact Lonsdale’s career is full of it, brief explosions which leave a trace, “passing” presences which are anchored in the memory of the actor. spectator.
A great “reader”
Lonsdale, son of a French mother and an English father, bilingual, filmed from the 1950s to last year – his last role would have been Edgar Degas in Degas et Moi, a short film by Arnaud des Pallières. His filmography is immense, as is his work in the theater (as a director, as an actor) and in television films and television series. He did a bit of everything: sometimes he experimented with creation, gave voiceovers to video games, published audiobooks (he was a great “reader”, and in recent years this has been a central aspect of his work. , on stage or on recording). He has also written and published several books, many of which explore an important facet of his personal life: religiosity and the Catholic faith.
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But, as a film actor, a comprehensive review of his work would require several pages. Was in Welles (Le Processus), was in Losey (M. Klein), was in Marcel Hanoun (the tetralogy of the 4 seasons), was in Mocky, was in Ruiz (L’Eveillé du Pont d’Alma), was in Rivette (October 1), and an etc. very long which includes objects as popular as The Name of the Rose (Annaud) and Munich (Spielberg). And it was, we will isolate here a fundamental collaboration, with Marguerite Duras (collaboration which extended to the theater), in some of the most radical objects of this brilliant director that was also Duras. He was, of course, India Song’s tenacious vice-consul, who vanished into his own shadow, swept from the field, and there were only her cries of passionate pain for the character of Delphine Seyrig, certainly among the most amazing minutes in history. the cinema.
In a recent autobiographical book (his personal ABC), Lonsdale recounted that Delphine Seyrig was the great passion of his life, without sharing or without an answer (“she was not free”), and that after such sorrow he had was impossible to “love someone again”. That’s what, in retrospect, carries those scenes and character of India Song even more – there’s always one more shadow in Lonsdale. In recent years, it was Manoel de Oliveira, in his last feature film, who had him play with her, because Lonsdale was the Gebo and the shadow of Gebo and the Shadow. Chance does its synthesis well.
Lonsdale was a colossus, he died a few months after another colossus (Michel Piccoli), and little by little the great European cinema of decades of modernity is losing its bearings. We are, objectively, poorer.