Yes, yes, I know I’m obscenely late.
Probably most iconically as Antoine Doinel in François Truffaut’s cycle of films The 400 Blows, Antoine and Colette, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run. Also Two English Girls and Day for Night, also by Truffaut. And then there’s the Godard films; Pierrot le fou, Alphaville, Masculin-féminin, Made in U.S.A., La Chinoise, and Week End. And of course a smattering of those, such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (which seriously, WHY is this not on DVD?), and Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep.
Why He’s Crushworthy:
As the Films page in my Favorites of Things section may show I’m a rather big fan of the French Nouvelle Vague. Particularly Jean-Luc Godard, though I also have a very large soft spot for Truffaut. So it’s not all that strange to imagine that I’d become at least somewhat attached to the star of many of their films. While the directors that made the New Wave exist were, for the most part, perched behind the camera Léaud was in front of it. So, he’s probably the most recognizable face of the movement.
Léaud made his first staring role as a child actor in Les Quatre cent coups, The 400 Blows, Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical film about a young boy, the aforementioned Antoine Doinel, who’s half misunderstood, half delinquent, and all down on his luck. It’s probably the best of the Doinel “adventures”, as the group of films was eventually marketed, because it’s honest, quiet, and features one of the most nuanced performances by a child actor that I’ve ever seen. Over the course of four more films, one a short, the audience would go on to watch Doinel fall in and out of love, get married, co-habitat, separate and pretty much lead a very normal life. As far as I know it’s one of the only examples of watching a character, and therefore actor, grow throughout a series of films.
Léaud also stared in Truffaut’s Two English Girls, which is, in my opinion, a sort of reverse meditation on his earlier work Jules and Jim (the far better of the two), in the same sort of way Some Kind of Wonderful is pretty much Pretty in Pink. The performance is solid and the character is well enough realized but Two English Girls is not quite where Léaud excells. It’s rather in the meandering bildungsroman type stories where the actor stands in for the rest of his generation that he’s known for.
As is the case with Masculin, féminin. While I find something to love about approximately all of Godard’s films (even the ones that seem altogether nonsensical) there are two that I consider among my favorites. One, of course, being the aforementioned. It stars Léaud as Paul, a somewhat Doinel-esque and wayward young man chasing pop star (on and off screen) Madeleine (Chantel Goya). It’s loosely based on two stories by Guy de Maupassant, but does a better job of being about everything and nothing at the same time. A sort of chronicler of love, sex, politics and being young in 1960s Paris. Or as one of it’s intertitles says “This film could be called The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola”. I adore it. And I adore Paul as a somewhat goofy stand-in for the confused everyman looking to be something but not knowing what.