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

racialist.

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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend