Impossible to make a list of Piccoli’s best films as he has multiplied the major films and major roles: at the very least we can try to extract five memories of characters or exemplary performances of his art of flip-flops.
Read also Michel Piccoli, the things of his life
La Chamade (1968) by Alain Cavalier
If Michel Piccoli often puts on the screen the figure of the seducer, it oscillates willingly from cynicism to devotion, sometimes both, as in this adaptation of a novel by Françoise Sagan, brought to the screen by Alain Cavalier in full May 68. A political off-screen which exacerbates the shift of an upscale bourgeoisie living in a vacuum, where Lucile (Catherine Deneuve) evolves, a young idler caught between two lovers, one great lord, who maintains him and n ‘demands nothing from her (Piccoli, masterful), and the other penniless. Two men embodying two universes, two relationships to the world, prodigal or chick. Gravity and moral rigor of poverty against lightness and generous recklessness of wealth.
Dillinger is dead (1969) by Marco Ferreri
The brain actor that Piccoli had the reputation of knowing knew on occasion to be instinctive. The almost silent role he plays in this film – which he held as one of the most beautiful in his career – gives it all the measure. In an experimental, even radical gesture, echoing the Godard du Contempt and of Pierrot le fou, Dillinger is dead dynamite all the narrative dikes, of the narrative in place of the subject, as if emptied of its substance. Piccoli, half-naked, reduced to his animal share, devotes himself to the most daily tasks (watching TV, listening to the radio, sleeping, cooking) as the most absconse (painting a revolver in red), until accomplishing , by disintegrating it, the infused violence of an era of which it seems to be the reflection.
Max and the scrap dealers (1971) by Claude Sautet
One year later things of life, Claude Sautet brings together the Michel Piccoli-Romy Schneider couple in Max and the Scrappers, which is like its dark side, and turns out to be one of the most nihilistic of the filmmaker’s career. The actor sets up an examining magistrate who has become a cop, who sets a trap for a gang of thugs to catch them in the act. Manipulator by excess of zeal, cold-blooded animal, whose only flame seems to be his obsession with wanting to shut up the mobsters, even if it is to break the law himself, Max, almost Melvillian hero with an increasingly waxy complexion, seems to be zombify as the film progresses. Being disembodied, haunted by a morbid passion, he covers in extremis an ounce of humanity at the precise moment when he kills out of love, and with a gesture, annihilates everything for which he had lived until then.
Les Noces rouges (1973) by Claude Chabrol
Inspired by a news item that hit the headlines in the early 1970s, the Red Wedding Seemingly ticks all the boxes of the Chabrolian thriller from the Pompidolian period: in a dormant province, an adulterous couple, from the petty bourgeoisie, decides to get rid of their annoying spouses, a sick woman and an odious husband who is none other than the mayor of the city. Figures of fatality and tragic destiny of which they are the toys, as they are prisoners of conventions and their social class, Michel Piccoli and Stéphane Audran in devilish lovers seized with irrepressible lustful impulses, symbolize the turbulences of a passion, which finds expression only in the overflow and the strategy of the worst (murder). When, locked up, they are asked why they did not just leave together, they answer: “Go ? No, we didn’t think about it … “
Nothing on Robert (1999) by Pascal Bonitzer
If he only plays a secondary role in a memorable scene – a dinner in the form of a massacre game where he humiliates a film critic (Fabrice Luchini), accused of having criticized a film he did not seen -, Piccoli finds the ideal setting for another facet of his game: chiseled tongue and theatrical excess. Relentless, ferocious and exhilarating, like this Bonitzer comedy, he delivers a carnivorous and terrifying performance, unmasking a form of critical imposture, here rendered to humanity. Or the pleasure of seeing the Luchini district being blown away by a sacred monster.