Michel Robin’s Last Fugue

He was one of the nicest faces in young Swiss cinema, but we’ve always known him old. Maybe it was because we were young then. It is also true that he had aged a good twenty years to hold, in The Little Fugues (1976), the role of Pipe, the farmhand who, at the end of a life of hard work, acquires a moped and, perched on his backfiring machine, discovers freedom, the vast spaces of Gros-de-Vaud where he worked so many years without ever raising his eyes to the horizon. A manifesto of the new Swiss cinema, Yves Yersin’s film proclaims solidarity with the common people and gives a cry of alarm: the machine will replace man, the rank and file like Pipe are doomed to disappear.

Six years ago The Little Fugues, Michel Robin participated in another flagship of young Swiss cinematography, The invitation, by Claude Goretta. He embodies the sweet Remy Placet by whom the scandal happens. The little office worker sells the family home and moves into an opulent mansion in the Geneva countryside.

He invites his colleagues for a garden party that turns sour. The guests envy their colleague’s sudden financial well-being. The social veneer cracks and Rémy Placet finds himself like a little mouse in the middle of a cat fight. Claude Goretta signs a satirical fable stigmatizing with finesse the discreet charm of the Swiss petty bourgeoisie of which Michel Robin embodies the embarrassment and quiet kindness to perfection.

An “emblematic actor”

Without Michel Robin, who lent his features to two of his most decisive works, Swiss cinema would not have been what it is. This emblematic actor was nonetheless French, born in Reims in 1930. He devoted most of his activities to the theater: he is a member of the Comédie-Française, he is part of the troupe of Roger Planchon and the Renaud-Barrault Company , where he plays Beckett and Brecht. He won a Molière for best supporting role for The winter crossing scored by Yasmina Reza.

In cinema, he is part of a long and beautiful tradition of supporting roles that lead him from Who are you, Polly Maggoo? at Fabulous destiny of Amélie Poulain, from L’Astragale to the Farewell to the queen, from The confession at Goodbye Berthe. He passes on velvet legs at Chabrol (Thanks for the chocolat), at Resnais (You have not seen anything yet), at Gainsbourg (Stan the Flasher), in the comedies of Francis Veber (The toy, The goat) and even in the nanars of Belmondo (Le Marginal).

Michel Robin died five days after his 90th birthday. May the hereafter be as ample as the fields of Gros-de-Vaud for the one who cleared the paths of freedom in The Little Fugues.

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