06 March 2014

Samy Frey

Esteemed and good-looking French actor Samy Frey (1937) (or Sami Frey) is best known for playing eccentric, offbeat roles in Nouvelle Vague films such as Jean Luc Godard's Bande à part/Band of Outsiders (1964). He also appeared in the provocative art-house classics Sweet Movie (1974) and Pourquoi pas!/Why not! (1977).

Samy Frey
French postcard by Editions Marion Valentine, Paris, no. 244. Photo: Jean Mounicq. Samy Frey and La maja desnuda (The nude Maja) by Francisco Goya in 1963.

Young and Very Handsome

Samy Frey (sometimes credited as Sami Frey or Sammy Frey) was born Samuel Frei in Paris in 1937. He is of Polish Jewish descent.

He was in his late teens when he made his screen debut with an uncredited part in Napoléon (Sacha Guitry, 1955). This was followed by small parts in Pardonnez nos Offences/Forgive us our trespasses (Robert Hossein, 1956) starring Marina Vlady, and the crime drama Les jeux dangereux/Dangerous games (Pierre Chenal, 1958), starring Jean Servais and Pascale Audret.

The young and very handsome Frey was soon engaged to Audret. Then he became the lover of Brigitte Bardot when he co-starred with her in La Vérité/The Truth (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1960). The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Frey became known with Nouvelle Vague films like the short Les fiancés du pont Mac Donald (ou Méfiez-vous des lunettes noires)/The Lovers of Mac Donald bridge (or Beware of dark sunglasses) (Agnes Varda, 1961), the classic Cléo de 5 à 7/Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda, 1962) featuring Corinne Marchand, and especially with Bande à part/Band of Outsiders (Jean Luc Godard, 1964). The latter is one of Godard's most accessible films and co-stars Anna Karina and Claude Brasseur.

Louis Schwartz at AllMovie: “Bande à part is driven by its actors and the chemistry among them. It uses their interactions to document the feeling of being young and French in the early 1960s.”

Acclaimed is also Thérèse Desqueyroux (Georges Franju, 1962) featuring Emmanuelle Riva. He then worked with expatriate American photographer and filmmaker William Klein at Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?/Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (William Klein, 1966), a satirical art house film spoofing the fashion world and its excesses.

Frey also worked on more mainstream films like the French historical romantic adventure Angélique et le Roy/Angelique and the King (Bernard Borderie, 1966), the third film of the Angelique series featuring Michèle Mercier. With Catherine Deneuve, he co–starred in Manon 70 (Jean Aurel, 1968), based on Manon Lescaut, an 18th-century French novel by Antoine François Prévost.

He reunited with William Klein for the anti-imperialist satirical farce Mr. Freedom (William Klein, 1969), starring Delphine Seyrig. She became his life partner till her death.

Samy Frey
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, offered by Korès, no. FK 60 A. Photo: Unifrance Film / Ufa.

Sweet Movie

Samy Frey continued to make both art house productions and mainstream films. A small and little seen but also interesting film is Jaune le soleil/Yellow Sun (Marguerite Duras, 1971), an adaptation of Duras' novel Abahn Sabana David. Frey also co-starred with Yves Montand and Romy Schneider in the successful romance César et Rosalie/César and Rosalie (Claude Sautet, 1972).

A scandal was caused by the avant-garde comedy-drama Sweet Movie (1974), directed by Yugoslavian film maker Dušan Makavejev. The film created a storm of controversy upon its release, with simulated (and unsimulated) scenes of coprophilia (sexual pleasure from faeces), emetophilia (sexual arousement by vomiting or observing others vomit), fondling, and footage of remains of the Polish Katyn Massacre victims.

Sweet Movie was banned in many countries, or severely cut; it is still banned in many countries to this day. However, Richard Winters at IMDb calls the film ‘Uniquely Brilliant and Original’: “Unfairly labeled as excessive and perverse, this film is really a very fascinating, intricate study into the recesses of the sexual mind. It looks at sex in all its complexities. It exposes it as a very primal need. It also shows how the sexual side of the person can have a personality all of its own.”

AllMovie: “Love it or hate it, one can't help but admire the visionary Makavejev for pushing the medium as far as he possibly could, and doing so with a stunningly graceful technique.”

Also odd but interesting is Le jardin qui bascule/The Garden That Tilts (Guy Gilles, 1975) in which he appeared with his partner Delphine Seyrig. One of my personal favourites is the sweet comedy-drama Pourquoi pas!/Why not! (Coline Serreau, 1977), about a marriage à trois.

Frey co-starred again with Catherine Deneuve in Écoute voir…/See Here My Love (Hugo Santiago, 1979). He had a supporting part in the successful thriller Mortelle Randonnée/ Deadly Circuit (Claude Mille, 1983) starring Michel Serrault and Isabelle Adjani.

He then played a PLO bomber opposite Diane Keaton in the American spy-film The Little Drummer Girl (George Roy Hill), adapted from the 1983 novel The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré. Another international production was the thriller Black Widow (Bob Rafelson, 1987) starring Debra Winger and Theresa Russell.

In Germany he made the drama Laputa (Helma Sanders-Brahms, 1986), screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival. In Belgium he made L'Œuvre au noir/The Abyss (André Delvaux, 1988) which was shown at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. The drama, starring Gian Maria Volonté, is based on the novel by Marguerite Yourcenar.

Frey also appeared in the American miniseries War and Remembrance (Dan Curtis, 1988), the sequel to the highly successful series The Winds of War.

Sami Frey
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 2770, 1967. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Progress.

Antonin Artaud

In the 1990s and after, Samy Frey continued to star in several major European productions. He played the male lead in L'africana/The African Woman (Margarethe von Trotta, 1990) starring Stefania Sandrelli and Barbara Sukowa.

He was the narrator of the semi-autobiographical comedy Hors Saison/Off Season (1992) by Daniel Schmid, who re-imagines the hotel he grew up in the Swiss Alps, hosting a series of interesting guests, including the actress Sarah Bernhardt (Marisa Paredes), and an anarchist assassin (Geraldine Chaplin). The film was the Swiss submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Frey portrayed French actor, poet and playwright Antonin Artaud in En compagnie d'Antonin Artaud/My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud (Gérard Mordillat, 1993). For this role he garnered considerable critical acclaim. Oslo Jargo at IMDb: “Sami Frey, who plays Artaud, is simply extraordinary and there is no hint that this man is an actor, this man IS Artaud, everything he says, whether it be random missives on the nature of evil in a fly or movements with his hands, eyes and intense caricature of the face, realizes Artaud's living frenzy.”

That same year, Frey was also Aramis in the French adventure film La fille de d'Artagnan/Revenge of the Musketeers (Bertrand Tavernier, 1994). Sophie Marceau starred as the daughter of the renowned swordsman D'Artagnan who keeps the spirit of the Musketeers alive by bringing together the aging members of the legendary band to oppose a plot to overthrow the King and seize power.

Later films include the French drama Les menteurs/The Liars (Élie Chouraqui, 1996) with Jean-Hugues Anglade.

In the new century Frey kept appearing in major parts in European films. In Germany he starred in PiperMint... das Leben möglicherweise/PiperMint… life possibly (Nicole-Nadine Deppé, 2004) with Meret Becker. He co-starred with Sophie Marceau and Yvan Attal in the romantic thriller Anthony Zimmer (Jérôme Salle, 2005).

In Italy, he co-starred with Sergio Castellito in Il regista di matrimoni/The Wedding Director (Marco Bellocchio, 2006) which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Also interesting is Nuit de chien/This Night (Werner Schroeter, 2008), as offbeat as his Nouvelle Vague films.

Most recently, Samy Frey played the lead in Le nez dans le ruisseau/The nose in the stream (Christophe Chevalier, 2012). He played a philosophy professor, who strikes up a friendship with a 12-year-old boy who understands Rousseau's philosophy better than he, without ever having been exposed to it.

Trailer La Vérité/The Truth (1960). Source: Milibbardot (YouTube).

Scene from Bande à part/Band of Outsiders (1964). Source: Lalvolution (YouTube).

Trailer for Sweet Movie (1974). Source: GardenSceneEvenings (YouTube).

Sources: Louis Schwartz (AllMovie), Richard Winters (IMDb), Oslo Jargo (IMDb), Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), AllMovie, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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