Jacques Perrin, a critical encounter

By Patrick Blossier, AFC

par Patrick Blossier Contre-Champ AFC n°332

[ English ] [ français ]

All of us have a fairy godfather or godmother who brought us into the tight-knit world of the cinema. Meeting Jacques Perrin was decisive for me, and he introduced me to many other people. He was looking for a camera assistant to work with Luciano Tovoli on the first and only film by Marc Grünbaum that he produced, Adoption. The year was 1979, I was finally about to work on an ambitious feature film with a talented cinematographer.

At the end of the shoot, Jacques offered me the opportunity of working with him on his oceanic film : The Roaring Forties. This was the incredible tale of Donald Crowhurst, an English navigator who participated in the first non-stop round-the-world race in 1968. At the time, it was neither easy nor usual to shoot in 35mm on the high seas. He asked me to study the question and sent me to do camera tests with a camera on a trimaran to be able to understand and appreciate the difficulties involved with shooting on the open seas during rough weather. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I followed him blindly.
I worked for more than a year on this film, which was nothing but a series of catastrophes. The trimaran, which was the main location of the film, and which had been built in Portland, USA, sank while it was being convoyed to France. The sailors were saved but we had to urgently find another boat…

The relationship with director Christian de Chalonge quickly soured, as they didn’t share the same vision for the film, and the mood on set was execrable (Jacques was also playing the starring role). As I remember it, I can still see him at the studio in Epinay between two takes, inside the little phonebooth, soaked through despite his green raincoat, trying to find the money to finish the film…
Several months of shooting were necessary to get the images of a storm that constantly moved away as we were approaching it.

But Jacques never gave up. He could have given up at least ten different times, but that’s not how he was. The film was a huge commercial and critical flop. When it was released, Libération called it “A shipwreck”. Jacques was ruined, but instead of disappearing or declaring bankruptcy, he asked his lenders for a payment plan, which earned him the respect of suppliers like Didier Diaz (Transpa) and Olivier Chiavassa (Éclair)… Everyone who worked with him were able to appreciate his courage, his audacity, his determination, his integrity, his fidelity, and his great kindness.
Beyond our friendship, I today realize how crucial my meeting with Jacques Perrin was for my training.

(Translated from French by A. Baron-Raiffe)

The thumbnail image at the top of the page shows Jacques Perrin in The Roaring Forties

In the portfolio below you can view a few stills from The Roaring Forties.