Obituary: Jean Carmet

Jean Carmet, actor: born Tours 25 April 1920; married; died Sevres 20 April 1994.

Jean Carmet was one of several French film players who graduated to leading roles in movies after a couple of decades at the job. The most obvious examples are Bourvil and Louis de Funes, who became box-office attractions in their own right. Their Gallic ordinariness endeared them to local audiences, and Carmet was even more ordinary. I would liken him rather to Rene Lefevre in the Thirties or Julien Carette in the Forties - all of them small in stature, morose, moustached and imperturbable, often bespectacled. They were the flic, the barman, the commercial traveller.

Yves Boisset acknowledged this when he cast Carmet in the title- role of Dupont Lajoie (1975). Lajoie was the patron of a Paris bar, and his Christian name was in fact Georges; but by calling him Dupont he became a French John Doe. He goes to a camping in the Midi with his wife - the sort of holiday place where they have the local equivalent of It's a Knockout; while that is going on Lajoie sees a girl (Isabelle Huppert) sunbathing in a lonely spot - the daughter of friends. A roving eye has been established; he tries to kiss her and then attempts rape. In resisting, she is killed.

The film is Boisset's best excursion into Chabrol territory, but it is not only murder he has on his mind. As Boisset observed, there were 24 racial murders in France in 1974. In his film, an Arab worker is suspected of the murder, and Lajoie works himself up into such a xenophobic frenzy that he eventually begins to believe that the Arab is guilty. The film, which begins as a satirical comedy, has become a study of the French everyman as


Carmet made over 200 films, beginning with a small role in 1944 in Les Enfants du Paradis, but it was not until the Sixties that he began to move up the cast list, notably in one of the last and best of Jean Renoir's films, Le Caporal Epingle (1962), which made a Fred Karno's army of a group of French POWs in Germany. Jean-Pierre Cassel had the title-role, and Carmet was one of his band of copains - reminiscing fondly about his work as a farmer. Renoir gave him another plum role in Le Petit Theatre de Jean Renoir (1969), a four-part film made for television which was shown in cinemas overseas. Carmet is in the last episode, set in the Midi, as the doctor with whom Francoise Arnoul falls in love. He is her own age, while her husband, Fernand Sardou, is so much older; after initial misgivings Sardou finds himself accepting their relationship - and it was with this affectionate study of a menage a trois that Renoir bade farewell to us.

Carmet fitted equally well into that world of Chabrol's - that territory of malice, neurosis, infidelity, deceit and cruelty, where extraordinary things happened to ordinary people. In La Rupture (1970) he was the husband of a Brussels landlady, a secret and relentless drinker. He was the manservant of kindly old Charles Vanel in Alice ou La Derniere Fugue (1977), a failed attempt to do a modern version of Lewis Carroll, but luckier with Violette Noziere (1977), one of the several films which seemed to mark Chabrol's return to his best form. This was based on an actual murder case of 1933, with Isabelle Huppert as the wilful, syphilitic teenager who plans to murder her parents - Stephane Audran and Carmet, a particularly dull and insensitive man.

In Buffet Froid (1979) he claimed himself to be a killer, thus chumming up with a lout, Gerard Depardieu. They became friends in real life, culminating in a joint appearance at the Cesars ceremony - the French Oscars - in February this year. Last year Carmet played Depardieu's father in Yves Robert's film of Zola's Germinal, which opens in London next month. The old man, nicknamed 'Bonnemort', has been working in the mines so long that his very spittle is black. He is one of the few members of the family alive at the end, if by then mad. He is gruff and hardened in a film which is long and somewhat less rewarding than Robert's two films recreating Marcel Pagnol's childhood, Le Gloire de Mon Pere (1991) and Le Chateau de Ma Mere. The players, wonderfully cast, are mostly unknown, but the second movie has three well-known actors in cameo roles - one of whom was Carmet, in a ripe turn as a ferociously unfriendly watchman.

He won two Cesars, for Robert Hossein's Les Miserables (1992), with Lino Ventura as Javert, and for Merci La Vie in 1992. His appearance at this year's ceremony was to collect an award for what the Hollywood Academy calls 'lifetime achievement'.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain