Sometimes I feel like French movies recycle the same half dozen actors over and over. Certainly the highly talented Daniel Auteuil, born January 24, 1950, is one of those familiar faces. Since 1974, he has made almost 80 films. He won a César award for Best Actor in 1987, for Jean de la Florette, and in 2000, for La Fille sur le pont (The Girl on the Bridge), and he’s been nominated another 10 times. He certainly is versatile; in Jean de la Florette he plays a mentally handicapped man and in La Fille sur le pont he portrays a cold-eyed knife thrower.
Auteuil was born in Algeria. When France pulled out after the war of independence in 1962, 1,400,000 pieds-noirs (pee-ay nwahr), or “black-feet” left the country. The term pieds-noirs refers to people of European decent born or living in Algeria. The origins of the name are debated. It may refer to the black boots or shoes worn by settlers compared to the typically bare-foot Algerian peasants. Many pieds-noirs felt abandoned by French policy and homesick for Algeria. I had a pied-noir teacher in Tours several years ago who clearly still felt bitter about having been forced to flee the only home she’d ever known and leave behind everything except what her family could carry in a few suitcases. Things worked out rather well in France for Auteuil, although certainly not for everyone.