French actor Michel Bouquet dies aged 96

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Michel Bouquet, the legendary French screen and stage actor, has died aged 96.

A lion of Gallic cinema and theatre, Bouquet appeared in more than 100 films, from the 1940s onwards.

He won two César Awards - the French equivalent of an Oscar - for best actor twice, for his roles in How I Killed My Father in 2001; and 2005's The Last Mitterrand, in which he portrayed the titular former French President.

The Élysée Palace, the office of the current French President Emmanuel Macron, announced the news of his death on Wednesday.

Mr Macron said in a statement: “It’s a sacred monster who has just left us."

"For seven decades, Michel Bouquet brought theatre and cinema to the highest degree of incandescence and truth, showing man in all his contradictions, with an intensity that burned the boards and burst the screen," he posted online.

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Bouquet was born in Paris in 1925 and after taking acting lessons he began a long-term working relationship with the playwright Jean Anouilh and director André Barsacq, performing in plays such as Romeo and Jeanette and many others at the Theatre de l'Atelier in Monmarte.

He played many Shakespearean roles and over the following decades helped to bring plays by the British writer Harold Pinter to a French audience.

In 1998, he received the Molière Award, the highest French theatre honour, for his role at Potier in Bertrand Blier's production of Les Côtelettes, and then again for his role in Eugène Ionesco's absurdist drama Exit the King in 2005.

A favourite of the new wave French directors, Bouquet was equally adept at drama or comedy, and on-stage or on the big screen.

He found a film niche in the 1960s and 1970s playing ordinary Frenchmen with complicated personal lives in films like Unfaithful Wife and Just Before Night Fall.

He was "a greatly original actor", according to Anne Fontaine, the director of How I Killed My Father.

“Even if he has a very relaxed and smiling air, there’s something in his acting that’s disconcerting, destabilizing, that provokes strangeness all the time," she told The New York Times in 2002.

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The Daily Telegraph described his performance in Mitterrand as "charming, arrogant, childlike and teasing".

"Bouquet offers up a master class in understated character acting, and delivers an indelible interpretation of a complex, infuriating man," the newspaper said at the time.

Aside from his big-screen roles, Bouquet was also decorated with a European Film Award for playing the old man Thomas in the 1991 Belgian film Toto the Hero.

He also played Javert in Robert Hossein's 1982 adaptation of Les Miserables.

His contributions to the arts saw him given the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the highest French honour overall, in 2018.

Bouquet was married twice, first to the actress Ariane Borg, and then to Juliette Carré, another actress with whom he often shared the stage.

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