He possesses audacity, purity, courage.
Inhabited by genius, he led the spectator with the force of grace, ardour and fire.
(Jean-Jacques Gautier on Gérard Philipe, after the first theatrical performance of The Cid)
In an ancient recording, a voice rings out...
A voice capable of evoking the lyrical abysses of Arthur Rimbaud like no other. A voice that guides the listener towards the vision of a boat adrift, without a crew, in the grip of tormented Maelströms. A timbre full of breathlessness, dismay and trepidation; capable of internalising and interpreting the chaos of humanity in disarray. A timeless voice in which life and death, youth and wisdom, light and shadow coexist at the service of famous verses. Rimbaud's The Drunken Boat seems to have crossed the centuries to meet Gérard Philipe's interpretation.
The reading of this bewitching poem (taken from: Les plus beaux poèmes de la langue française) is an absolutely contemporary performance. A method derived from the inescapable Laurence Olivier, but which - in the 1940s and 1950s - found in Philipe its real turning point.
Dream and myth come together in a meteoric career, dominated by a luminous talent, which began in the 1940s and was studded with famous roles: Fanfan la Tulipe, Les Grandes Manoeuvres, La Beauté du Diable and Le Diable au Corps, to name but a few.
He was a hypnotic, politically committed actor with a lively sensibility, as he was also responsible for the creation of the French union of artists and performers (S.F.A.).
His career and political commitment were lived intensely alongside his life partner Anne. An intense love story, cut short by his sudden death at the age of 36.
A multifaceted writer, a few years after her husband's death she published Le temps d'un soupir. A short literary jewel, printed in order to channel her own coexistence with darkness and the elaboration of mourning. Pages of orientation in the darkness, of analysis of a cruel pain faced without escaping it, but from which she wants to save herself, even without getting rid of the memory.
In 2019, for the 60th anniversary of his death, the French writer and journalist Jérôme Garcin has extended his hand to that text, publishing Le dernier hiver du Cid.
Garcin, known for his intimate and penetrating writing, gives the reader a unique daily diary, full of life, despite belonging to an unsuspecting man condemned to death, as Anne decided to conceal the seriousness of his illness from him so that he could live out his remaining time to the full.
Garcin's pages give us a Philipe intent on taking notes for the preparation of new characters that would never meet an audience.
The French journalist honours his memory and does so with an eye to his life partner: Anne-Marie Philipe, Anne and Gérard's daughter.
This passionate and attentive writing follows Philipe during the last months he spent in Ramatuelle, maintaining a strong link with Le Temps d'un soupir but giving us the last moments of the French actor's life with a greater detachment to give a voice to Gérard himself, followed closely by Anne and Doctor Gaudart d'Allaines (who, by an incredible twist of fate, turned out to be Garcin's uncle).
Like Le temps d'un soupir, Le Dernier Hiver du Cid is a book that lives beyond its pages, highlighting the very essence of Philipe's timeless charm. The interview with Garcin has given us the opportunity to delve even deeper into the beauty of this unforgettable tale.
I would like to start by asking you what motivated you to write such a moving novel about Gérard Philipe's last days. Was it difficult to be impartial?
Good question! Obviously, one thinks of my family and personal situation, since Gérard Philipe's daughter has been my life partner for a long time. That's why it was difficult to be totally impartial and approach writing a eulogy of Philipe, which doesn't leave much room for criticism. It is true that my impartiality probably stops at the fact that I am Gérard's posthumous son-in-law, but - at the same time - the choice to write the book in a certain way, following the terrible calendar of his last days, forced me to be objective and impartial, because certain medical-scientific elements cannot be questioned, as well as the incredible brevity of his life. So, yes: perhaps partial from an emotional point of view, but never from a historical-literary point of view.
I remember an interview with Anne-Marie Philipe in which she claimed that her mother, Anne first made a man out of Gérard and, after his death, a legend. Do you agree and do you think there is a link between your book and Le temps d'un soupir?
There is more than one link. I would never have written Le dernier hiver du Cid if I had not been, at the time, inspired by Le temps d'un soupir, a book that changed my life. I was never the same after reading it.
I met Anne long before I met Anne-Marie. I was 17 or 18 and had just lost my father in an accident and, a few years earlier, my twin brother. During my adolescence, I was living this double mourning very badly, and Le temps d'un soupir bewitched me, because it told perfectly the feeling I didn't know how to express. So, I wrote a letter to Anne, even though I didn't know her, and she answered me wonderfully, telling me to come and see her. Then I went to Anne and Gérard's home, where I found myself in the presence of an admirable woman who lived, indeed, under the weight of a legend, but who slowly became my friend, telling me about the man, reliving his last days, showing me the room where he died, the furniture, the library... And then, one day, within the walls of this house, I saw a beautiful blond girl walking by, wearing Fanfan La Tulipe’s boots, and that's how I fell in love with Anne-Marie.
As far as the question is concerned, Le dernier hiver du Cid would not exist if it were not for meeting Anne and discovering Gérard and Ramatuelle, which was the place where he lived his last moments. Anne also told me about an extraordinary doctor who had helped her to make a terrible decision and to keep the illness from Gérard. She told me that it was Professor Gaudart d'Allaines, who was actually my uncle, whom I knew and loved very much. This is to say that I had all the elements to write Le dernier hiver du Cid one day and, finally, I would like to point out that I did not write it just following Anne's memories, because I wanted it to be the book she could not write, showing the woman she had been. We can consider it as the book that precedes hers, since I narrate Gérard's last days, before Anne decides to write about him and her mourning.
This is a somewhat articulate answer to show how much my life, Anne and Gérard's and Anne-Marie's lives are very much linked.
Gérard is considered to be the first contemporary actor. Where do you think the mystery of his eternal success lies?
I agree, and we will realise this even more next year, because it is the centenary of his birth and, through a series of events which are being organised, we will see how modern he still is. If we look at the cover photo of my book, for example, we see a face that is absolutely contemporary.
On the one hand, he had a gift that cannot be translated into words: grace. The mystery and aura associated him with the likes of James Dean. There was something in his acting that was mature and childlike at the same time. In life he was very cheerful, loving to make those around him laugh; an attitude almost of an eternal adolescent.
I cannot, of course, speak from direct personal experience when I quote his performances, but all those who were lucky enough to have seen him say that they were unforgettable performances. I remember, for example, Philippe Noiret telling me that it was customary, even when they were acting in the same play, to stop at the gallery to admire his acting, fascinated by his way of possessing the stage.
To answer the question, on the one hand - as with Dean - when you die in the height of your glory there is a collective shock that fuels the myth. On the other hand, I think there is more. His eternal success is due to the fact that he was as great on film as he was on stage, juggling both worlds like few others. Another reason is the vastness of his filmography and theatrical performances that he carried out in a very short time. Without forgetting his political commitment which saw him create the first actors' union. We are talking about a man who, during the week, took part in the shooting of a film, at the weekend acted in the theatre (two or three different roles!) and, in addition, found the time to preside over the union and to demand the recognition of their rights (which he could have ignored, from the height of his position). A combination of roles that had never been seen before and I doubt will again in the future.
Finally, there is an entirely French motivation. His glory is the glory of the post-war period, a time when France was totally destroyed, a country that no longer loved itself, that needed purity, fire and renewal. Suddenly, there was a young actor, handsome as a god, committed, talented, and the whole country recognised itself in him and began to love itself again, thanks to his features and his morals. It's a key moment in the history of France that explains his never-ending success.
I know you wrote to honour his memory. Do you think France is doing enough in this respect?
My book came out for the 60th anniversary of Gérard Philipe's death, in October 2019. I gave many interviews and each time I was indignant about how this country was letting the anniversary pass by in silence, but I think I triggered something. The problem with France is that it forgets easily, though I think people have realised their mistake, so there will be a national commemoration, next year, for the centenary of his birth, organised by the ministry of culture, so my anger has been rewarded.
You are a multifaceted writer. You deal with fiction, biographies, autobiographies... can I ask you what you are working on at the moment?
My next work will be a very personal book. I have written both books about people I admire and extremely subjective volumes (e.g. the loss of my father and brother) and this will be still part of my large family of books centred on memory.