To Become a Man

The death of Gérard Philipe on 25 November 1959 provoked national grief in France. In a recent book, Jérôme Garcin revisits the actor’s singular life and death. He contends that Philipe personified the need for catharsis after World War II, embodying the French nation’s best aspirations. But he stood for something more universal, too. Maria Casarès said of him: ‘He was a man seeking avidly, ferociously to become a man’. He knew time was short. In an interview with the journal Arts, he was asked: ‘What thought preoccupies you?’ He answered: ‘The urgency of the things I have to do.’ Then, ‘What amazes you about life?’, to which he responded, ‘Its brevity’. Happily we have both the films in which he acted and many sound recordings that he made — this one, for example: a marvellous reading of Georges Duhamel’s Mozart Told to Children.