Once Upon a Photograph: Alain Delon by Jean-Marie Périer

Alain Delon photographed by Jean-Marie Périer, 1966
(from the book “Alain Delon: Amours et mémoires”, by Denitza Bantcheva with Liliana Rosca)


At first glance, I thought this photograph was a film still from Plein soleil. The look, the clothes, something about it… It was Alain Delon’s first major part and he played Tom Ripley to perfection – even Patricia Highsmith agreed. The role was initially meant for Jacques Charrier, but Delon fought with the producers and the director to get the role. He also had Bella, director René Clément’s wife and the film’s costume designer, on his side and he eventually got to play Ripley. With his arresting good looks and animal instinct, he burst on screen and made a more sinister Ripley than Matt Damon would succeed to in Anthony Minghella’s film four decades later. We don’t need dialogue to be made aware of the character’s darting intelligence. This is in itself a great cinematic achievement, something that reminds me of Hitchcock’s films. “Movies are made of very simple ideas,” David Mamet, another Hitchcock disciple, wrote in his book, On Directing Film. “The good actor will perform each small piece as completely and as simply as possible.” Delon managed to portray a complex character without many words. And it was a very complex character to interpret, according to Clément himself: “Does criminal innocence exist? Delon must, in the crime, preserve this purity which cannot be judged, because it stems from a psychology which escapes us by escaping the norm of humanity.” Throughout his career, Delon would push “the negation of his own mythology inside a film that respects the rules of the genre,” Jacques Deray, who made nine films with the actor, would reveal.

Back to the photograph, when I saw the credit and read photographer Jean-Marie Périer’s words (the photo was taken in 1966, but Périer’s words are from 2019), I appreciated it even more, discovering new meanings to it.

“I don’t like people who say bad things about Alain Delon. I have known him since 1956. He was returning from Indochina where he had done his military service. The first time I saw him he was walking along rue Saint-Benoît in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which at the time was the center of Paris, with its terraces full of people… Alain was then unknown and didn’t even know he would be an actor. Believe me if you want, but seeing him pass, the terraces all along the street stopped. He emanated a rare presence whose significance I don’t know if he realised, and then there was this face… Of course it was thanks to this physique that he began his career, but then, if you look at his film career, he has spent his life taking risks if only to prove to people, and perhaps to himself, that he was not just handsome. At twenty-five years old, whether at the Cannes film festival, or at the wheel of his Ferrari on Via Veneto in Rome, he was truly king of the world. Being and having been Alain Delon can not have been so simple. He often showed me his friendship by letting me photograph him, which was not his favourite exercise. Thank you, Alain.” – Jean-Marie Périer as quoted in the book Alain Delon: Amours et mémoires, by Denitza Bantcheva with Liliana Rosca



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