The film world lost a screen legend on June 17, 2022, when iconic French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant passed away at the age of 91. He had well over 100 acting credits, with the first being all the way back in 1955, and his last in 2019. Thanks to working with numerous directors who are well-known on an international scale (like Krzysztof Kieślowski, Bernardo Bertolucci, Michael Haneke, and François Truffaut), he established himself as an actor known well beyond just French audiences.
Capturing all the great performances in such a huge career is impossible to do in a single top 10 list, but the following 10 films are some of Trintignant’s best, and also show off his versatile talents as an actor. All are worthwhile watches for anyone interested in exploring the impressive filmography that Jean-Louis Trintignant left behind.
Three Colors: Red (1994)
Three Colors: Red is the final film in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s famed Three Colors trilogy, ending it on a strong and emotionally resonant final note. Each film focuses on different groups of characters dealing with love, loneliness, sadness, and really just the human condition in general.
In Red, Jean-Louis Trintignant plays an enigmatic retired judge who forms an unusual bond with his neighbor, a woman at least 30 years his junior. It’s a strange and unique viewing experience, but an absorbing one, and may even be the high point of the entire trilogy.
The Great Silence (1968)
The Great Silence is a dark, intense Western that provides one of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s best and most well-known performances, as well as perhaps potentially being his most difficult role. This is because the main character he plays is a mute gunman who tries to protect a small village from a gang of menacing bounty hunters.
He pulls it off brilliantly of course, with his performance matched by that of iconic German actor Klaus Kinski, who makes for a terrifying lead villain. Elsewhere, it’s got a great Ennio Morricone score and a uniquely cold and wintry setting, which is rare (though not completely unheard of) for the Western genre.
The Conformist (1970)
The Conformist is perhaps director Bernardo Bertolucci’s best film, having stunning visuals and a great central Jean-Louis Trintignant performance. It tells a challenging story about a man ordered by the fascist government of Italy in the late 1930s to assassinate an outspoken anti-fascist professor in Paris.
The subject matter is often difficult and dark, and the story is a confronting one, but the 1970s was admittedly a decade where plenty of mainstream films weren’t afraid to provoke or challenge audiences. The Conformist is still held in high regard, too, some half a century later, with a rare perfect 100/100 score from film critics on Metacritic.
Amour was one of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s final performances; the same as his co-star in the film, Emmanuelle Riva, who became the oldest ever Oscar nominee for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, at 85 years old.
Amour is a hugely challenging film about an elderly couple who must make some difficult life decisions after one of them suffers a stroke. It’s an agonizingly honest look at the challenges of growing old, and the sadness that comes with approaching the end of one’s life. It shows that even at over 80 years of age, Trintignant could still give a great performance, and the film overall will truly stick with those who watch it.
My Night at Maud’s (1969)
My Night at Maud’s is the kind of movie where it’s mostly two people talking to each other, but the acting and differences between the characters here keep things engaging.
It also had a potentially risqué premise for the standards of the 1960s, with the plot involving a one-night stay between a Catholic man and a more free-spirited, divorced woman. Much of the film involves the two talking about their different outlooks on life, their beliefs, and their values. Not recommended for those who need some more action or story to stay engaged with a movie, but as a dialogue-driven showcase for actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Françoise Fabian, it’s quite good.
Z is a complex and tense thriller about assassination, corruption, and political turmoil in Greece during the 1960s. Jean-Louis Trintignant plays more of a supporting role here – given the film’s sprawling narrative and ensemble cast – but he still makes the performance a memorable one, portraying a magistrate who uncovers evidence surrounding who may have committed the film’s central murder which kicks off the main storyline.
It’s a fairly overwhelming film, as well as an unnerving and downbeat one, but it’s a classic of world cinema, as it proved surprisingly popular in the United States as well as France. In the process, it also earned five Oscar nominations, and ultimately won two (for Best Foreign Film and Best Editing).
Il Sorpasso (1962)
Il Sorpasso is, for the most part, a comedic road trip movie about an overly-confident middle-aged man and a young lawyer (played by Trintignant) driving through the Italian countryside in search of excitement, adventure, and women.
It’s not entirely a comedy, though, as it gets surprisingly dark as it goes on, transforming slowly but surely into more of a drama by its climax. It’s an interesting and unpredictable film, and thanks to it being a road movie, it also boasts some fantastic-looking Italian landscapes to marvel at along the way.
A Man and a Woman (1966)
A Man and a Woman has a simple title that suggests – you guessed it – a romantic bond between a man and a woman. Jean-Louis Trintignant and fellow French actress Anouk Aimée play two widows who meet by chance, and realize before long that they’re developing feelings for each other.
It’s well-acted and visually quite striking, and was followed up by two sequels, one in 1986, and another in 2019 (which proved to be Trintignant’s very last acting role). In this way, it’s sort of a precursor to the Before Trilogy, which also explores a relationship between two people who meet by chance over three separate films that were all released a fair few years apart.
…And God Created Woman (1956)
…And God Created Woman isn’t one of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s very best movies, but it’s notable for being his breakthrough lead role. He stars alongside French film icon Brigitte Bardot, with the two playing young lovers in a small town who develop a strange (and possibly dangerous) romance.
It’s probably most notable for how steamy it was by the standards of the 1950s, though naturally, it feels a good deal tamer nowadays. While the story and dialogue might be a little lacking, the two leads give it their all, and still turn in good performances. An interesting movie to watch for its historical value for sure, even if it might not have aged as gracefully as other notable Jean-Louis Trintignant films.
Confidentially Yours (1983)
Confidentially Yours is a twisted comedy/thriller/mystery that involves Jean-Louis Trintignant’s character being suspected of a murder he didn’t commit, after which, he and his secretary conduct their own investigations to try and prove his innocence before the law catches up to him.
It’s a fun watch, and the solid blend of genres keeps things engaging, with a plot where it’s not easy to guess what will happen next. It’s also notable for being the final film directed by iconic French New Wave director, François Truffaut, who sadly passed away at just 52 years of age in 1984, himself leaving behind an impressive body of work, just like Trintignant.