15 October 2014

Jean Sorel

With his dreamy features and glossy, immovable hair, Jean Sorel (1934) was one of the most handsome leading men of the European cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. He worked in the French, Italian and later in the Spanish cinema with such directors as Luis Buñuel and Luchino Visconti. Since 1980 he appeared mostly on television.

Jean Sorel
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 1049. Photo: Studio Vallois.

Jean Sorel
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 173. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Jean Sorel
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 143. Photo: Lucienne Chevert.

Womanizer with Good Looks

Jean Sorel was born as Jean de Combault-Roquebrune in Marseille, France, in 1934. Sorel is from a noble family of officers.

His father, Guy de Combaud Roquebrune was a founder of the French journal Liberté. He died in battle against the Nazis in September 1944 as commander of a French paratrooper unit of the British Special Air Force.

Sorel began his studies at the Ecole Normale Supérieure to pursue a diplomatic career, but he abandoned his studies when he fell in love with the theatre. He made his stage debut during his period in a production of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.

In 1956 and 1957 he had to fight in the Algerian war. After his military service he chose for an acting career and made his film debut with a small part in J'irai cracher sur vos tombes/I’ll Spit On Your Grave (Michel Gast, 1959) starring Christian Marquand.

His breakthrough was a major role in the now forgotten film Les Lionceaux/Bitter Fruit of Love (Jacques Bourdon, 1960) in which he played a womanizer with good looks.

In the following years he became established with supporting parts in productions like Vive Henri IV...vive l'amour!/Long Live Henry IV... Long Live Love (Claude Autant-Lara, 1961), L'oro di Roma/Gold of Rome (Carlo Lizzani, 1961), Julia, Du bist zauberhaft/Adorable Julia (Alfred Weidenmann, 1962), Germinal (Yves Allégret, 1963), and La ronde/The Circle of Love (Roger Vadim, 1964) with Jane Fonda.

Jean Sorel
East-German postcard by VEB Progress, Berlin, no. 28/70, 1970. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Unifrance-Film.

Jean Sorel, Lilli Palmer
East-German postcard by VEB Progress, Berlin, no. 1897, 1964. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Progress. Publicity still for Julia, Du bist zauberhaft/Adorable Julia (Alfred Weidenmann, 1962) with Lilli Palmer.

Jean Sorel
East-German postcard by VEB Progress, Berlin, no. 2.573.

Brilliant Career

In the next decade Jean Sorel had a brilliant career. Especially his work in Italian films established him as one of the most popular actors at an international level. He worked with such directors as Alberto Lattuada, Dino Risi, Franco Brusati, Nanni Loy, Damiano Damiani, and Mauro Bolognini.

Luchino Visconti directed him in the masterpiece Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa/Sandra (Luchino Visconti, 1965) as the incestuous brother of Claudia Cardinale. The film won both the Silver Ribbon and the Golden Lion at the festival of Venice.

Two years later, he starred in another masterpiece, Belle de jour/Beauty of the Day (Luis Buñuel, 1967). Sorel played the paralyzed husband of beautiful Catherine Deneuve, in her most famous interpretation.

He also appeared in productions like Sidney Lumet's fiery Vu du pont/A View From the Bridge (Sidney Lumet, 1962) based on the play by Arthur Miller, and the British-French thriller The Day of the Jackal (Fred Zinnemann, 1973).

Apart from these classics, Sorel appeared often in genre films such as Paranoia/A Quiet Place to Kill (Umberto Lenzi, 1970). In this cult thriller set in Majorca, he fights back after his ex-wife Carroll Baker tries to murder him for a second time.

Jean Sorel
East-German postcard by VEB Progress, Berlin, no. 2.210, 1965. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Progress.

Jean Sorel
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 1107. Photo: Lucienne Chevert.

Jean Sorel
French collectors card by Editions P.I., Paris. Photo: Vallois.

Reunited With Claudia Cardinale

From the mid-1970s, Jean Sorel reduced his film activities and he appeared mostly on television and in the theatre (often under the direction of Roger Planchon).

To his well-known films of those years belong Les enfants du placard/Closet Children (Benoît Jacquot, 1977) with Brigitte Fossey, Der Mann im Schilf/The Man in the Rushes (Manfred Purzer, 1978), Les soeurs Bronte/The Bronte Sisters (André Téchiné, 1979) with Isabelle Adjani and Isabelle Huppert, the TV film La naissance du jour/The Birth of the Day (Jacques Demy, 1980) with Danièle Delorme and Dominique Sanda, and Aspern/The Aspern Papers (Eduardo de Gregorio, 1985) with Bulle Ogier and Alida Valli.

After that he slowly retired from the film business. There followed only sporadic appearances in front of the camera like the Bud Spencer vehicle Un piede in paradise/Speaking of the Devil (Enzo Barboni, 1991), and the TV mini-series Deserto di fuoco/The Desert of Fire (Enzo G. Castellari, 1997) in which he was reunited with Claudia Cardinale.

Recent films are L'ultimo Pulcinella/The Last Pulcinella (Maurizio Scaparro, 2008) with Massimo Ranieri and Adriana Asti, and the short drama Il teatro dei ricordi/The Theatre of Memories (Angela Bevilacqua, Giorgia Randolfi, Francesca Saracino, 2014).

Since 1963, Jean Sorel is married to Italian actress Anna-Maria Ferrero, who gave up her acting career soon after their marriage. Today they live in Paris and Rome.

Scene from Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa/Sandra (Luchino Visconti, 1965) with Claudia Cardinale and Michael Craig. Source: Classic Movies Store.

Trailer of Belle de Jour (1967). Source: BestForeignMovies (YouTube).

Love scene in La volpe dalla coda di velluto/In the Eye of the Hurricane (1971) between Analía Gadé and Jean Sorel. Source: apkie (YouTube).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Michael Musto (The Village Voice), Wikipedia and IMDb.


Bunched Undies said...

I didn't realise he was in "Belle du Jour". In those pics he has an amazing resemblance to Tom Brady. Interesting post Bob.

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

There's certainly no denying he's amazingly good looking. Are all these actors wonderful linguists, too, or are their films usually dubbed? Jean Sorel, for instance, did he speak Italian and Spanish as fluently as French?

Dorincard said...

So many beautiful actors, and they will all decay, eventually...What a waste! Why didn't God create a small category of Immortals? :)

Sevgi Ayar said...
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