L'enfance nue

L’enfance nue

Lists which seriously endeavor to quantify and valuate for history—rather than personal edification—can be useful barometers of either popular opinion or a single publication’s editorial values. They’re also a bit of a drag. A list that is arbitrarily constructed and entirely useless for any purposes other than pleasure, however, is not without a certain charm. For example, I recently enjoyed this bare-bones ranking of Muppets from Deadspin, which is basically a long wind-up to a Scooter-bashing gag. FILM COMMENT, not immune to the demands of this list-sick age, indulges in a Trivial Top 20 with every issue. I see no reason why something that is amusing at 20 might not be even better if belabored to death at five times that length.

Like a great many world-shaking innovations, the idea to assemble a list of the hundred best ensemble, secondary, and tertiary characters in postwar international art-house cinema came to me quite by accident, in the midst of a casual discussion of a movie which contains more than a few such characters, R.W. Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore (71). Inspired by Tom Scharpling’s podcast The Best Show, which recently nominated a “Top 100 Fictional Characters of ALL TIME”, I set out to designate a pantheon for the unsung MVPs of the very sort of cinema which cedes all credit for inspiration to the almighty director. These were the secret stars of the show who, with a relative paucity of screen time, managed to embed themselves at the heart of the movie. (In one instance I have included a character who must have at least an hour of solo time before the camera, though it should be taken into account that this does not add up to even one-sixth of the film’s total runtime.) They comprise the rich detail in each film that would continue to stand out clearly when much else had been eroded by memory—or the pebble in the shoe.

Such a task couldn’t be undertaken alone, and I ran the topic up the flagpole known as Twitter for submissions. The rules dictating what was and was not allowable were somewhat vaguely defined, as “art house” itself is a vaguely defined term. In creating a definition of “international,” I opted to exclude Anglo-American cinema. Most genre cinema has likewise been excluded, although I did allow Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (49) and Yojimbo (61), if only because Kurosawa, along with Bergman, Fellini, and Rossellini, practically defined “art house” to Americans in the Fifties. In instances where I felt I could not do otherwise, I have allowed documentaries. Belatedly, I decided it was best to limit the list to postwar films, meaning that I was unfortunately unable to include “This Queen in The Rules of the Game (39),” submitted by one @michaelagrammar.

When identifiable—which was not possible as often as I might have liked—the name of the performer or performers has been placed in parenthesis. The majority of the supporting players are human beings, but not all. Where a contributor is not listed, the submissions originated with me. The order was determined through shifting items about in a Word document almost at random, until a juxtaposition was found which gave off pleasurable frissons. (#54 and #53, for example…). I am, however, willing to stand by the Top 25 or so as definitive, the revealed truth etched in stone. And now, without further ado:




100. The guy with the ‘Straight Edge’ backpiece in Beau travail (Nicolas Devauchelle)

99. “The two bikers in Kikujiro who Takeshi Kitano bullies into dressing up as watermelons to entertain a sad child.” —@mattmansfield_

98. Marie, the sidepiece dish on Capri with the broken foot in Journey to Italy (Maria Mauban)

97. The fishfaced, frowning neighborhood madman in Fear of Fear (Kurt Raab)

96. Vidal, the waspish, preening, thin-skinned friend in My Night at Maud’s (Antoine Vitez)

My Night at Maud's Vidal

My Night at Maud’s

95. “The warden in El Verdugo” —@Diezmartinez

94. Suction-cup Bart Simpson doll on Yang Kuei-Mei’s backseat window in Vive L’Amour

93. Mickey in Street of Shame (Machiko Kyō)

92. “The giant Toblerone bar in Detective” —@nelliekillian

91. “Akita Inu dogs in L’Intrus” —@justinstew

Syndromes and a Century

90. “The doctor in Syndromes and a Century who gets drunk before her TV appearance.” —@BusterKitten

89. The stubby, red old man in Dog Days (Erich Finsches)

88. Homeboy in J’entends plus la guitar (Yann Collette)

87. Hylas the bawdy minstrel, whose body language is oddly reminiscent of Adam Sandler’s Opera Man, in The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (Rodolphe Pauly)

86. The pneumatic bartender at the Arab bar in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Barbara Valentin)

Woody Allen King Lear

King Lear

85. “The baguette-eating revolutionary binmen” in Weekend” —@faces_of_jeff

84. Woody Allen in King Lear

83. “Transcriber who quits out of moral disgust in The Man Who Loved Women” —@_JakeMulligan

82. The incompetent salesman in Nathalie Granger (Gérard Depardieu)

81. Celebrity john “Alberto Lazzari” in Nights of Cabiria (Amedeo Nazzari)


80. Enotea in Satyricon (Donyale Luna)

79. Jean-Pierre Melville in Breathless

78. Mouse-man, Mon Oncle d’Amérique

77. “The random grandma innkeeper who gets fucked in In the Realm of the Senses” —@_subarishii

76. Sweaty dirtbag patron of the innkeeper in Vengeance Is Mine, particularly during the pretzel-sex scene

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

75. “The karate guy in Possession” —@nelliekillian

74. “The monkeys at the end of Aguirre, the Wrath of God” —@douglenox

73. The ex-boyfriend who gets pantsed (“You have become an unspeakable monster of vulgarity”) in Celine and Julie Go Boating

72. Inspector Constant in This Man Must Die (Maurice Pialat)

71. “The belligerent coffee shop waiter in Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle” —@j_christley

Los Olvidados blind beggar

Los Olvidados

70. “The blind beggar in Los Olvidados” —@Diezmartinez

69. The guy who spits on Sophie Marceau in Police

68. “The cowboy hat dude who buys the club in Playtime (Billy Kearns)” —@BusterKitten

67. Elegant middle-aged decadent in Fox and His Friends (Karlheinz Böhm)

66. “Repping untold dozens of dubbed Americans, Michael Conrad in Un Flic” —@LMagFilm

Touki Bouki

Touki Bouki

65. “The guy who finds a skull and runs off screaming in Touki Bouki” —@_Ash_Clark

64. The chicken, Stroszek

63. The guy dressed like Zorro who tells the plot of a Porky Pig cartoon at the beginning of Beware of a Holy Whore

62. The horrible sister in Tokyo Story (Haruko Sugimara)

61. Fritz Lang in Contempt

Les Bonnes Femmes

Les Bonnes Femmes

60. “Old lady recycling bottles in Trois Colours” —@atstephenbell

59. “The boss in Les bonnes femmes” —@marshlands

58. “Old resistance fighter in Éloge d’amour” —@michaelagrammar

57. The girls at the record store in Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?

56. “The hypnotized card-player in Heart of Glass who walks out of the bar still holding his cards in front of his face” —@SeanRMoorhead

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?

55. The dragueur in Mes petites amoureuses (Pierre Edelman)

54. The guy who gets a nail driven through his penis in Maîtresse

53. “Luc Moullet’s real-life wife in Anatomy of a Relationship (Antonietta Pizzorno)” —@cmasonwells

52. “Wandering masturbator in tighty-whities in Stranger by the Lake” —@JohnMagary

51. “The village elder in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Ercan Kesal)” —@aliarikan


50. “The coffee shop owner in Certified Copy who whispers a secret to Binoche and then says, ‘But mum’s the word.’” —@bnowalk

49. Big Asian guy with the ball thingies in Belle de Jour (Iska Khan)

48. “Fabrice Luchini’s young would-be politician daughter in The Tree, The Mayor, and the Mediatheque” —@elazic

47. Sam Fuller in Pierrot le fou

46. The cabbage-head doll in Stray Dogs

Straw Dogs

Straw Dogs 

45. The “I haven’t seen the stars…” lady pickpocket in Stray Dog

44. Loudmouth “American” tourist who collects crucifixes in I Am Cuba

43. “The party-girl who steals Takashi Shimura’s hat in Ikiru” —@ProleArtThreat

42. “The elderly caretaker in Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffee (“C’est de la bonne viande!”) —@PasqualeIannone

41. “The matchstick game dude in Last Year at Marienbad” —@ProleArtThreat

Last Year at Marienbad

Last Year at Marienbad

40. “Frankie Stout in La Dolce Vita (Alain Dijon)” —@nightraincity

39. Philosophical bodybuilder Soul Frieda in In a Year of 13 Moons (Walter Bockmayer)

38. The grandfather from The Puppetmaster

37. The grandmother from Like Someone in Love

36. The grandmother from Vagabond (Marthe Jarnias)

The Ballad of Narayama

35. The grandmother from L’Enfance nue (Marie Marc)

34. “The Grandmother from The Ballad of Narayama (Sumiko Sakamoto)” —@justinstew

33. “The sea critter in La Dolce Vita” —@justinstew

32. Tubby kid holding the clock over his junk in What Time Is It There?

31. Little fella trying unsuccessfully to scramble up onto the out-of-reach bed in Even Dwarfs Started Small

Europa '51

Europa ’51

30. Eddie Constantine in Beware of a Holy Whore (Eddie Constantine)

29. Michele, the clingy, whinging son in Europa ’51 (Sandro Franchina)

28. “Vanda in Colossal Youth (Vanda Duarte)” —@BusterKitten

27. Inspecteur Morvandieu in Buffet Froid (Bernard Blier)

26. Long-haired chauffeur Lino in The Conformist (Pierre Clémenti)

The Canterbury Tales

25. “Satan in Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales” —@_subarishii

24. “The guy eating peanut butter in the bathroom in Prénom Carmen” —@jmslaymaker

23. “Teenaged lothario with a Renault Magnum in Fat Girl (Libero de Rienzo)” —Brad Peters

22. Paratrooper commander Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu in The Battle of Algiers (Jean Martin)

21. Senkenberg, the steadfast accountant in The Marriage of Maria Braun (Hark Bohm)

The Marriage of Maria Braun

The Marriage of Maria Braun

20. Meinhart, the soldier designing cockroach traps in Signs of Life (Wolfgang Reichmann)

19. The two spoiled twerps with New Wave haircuts and blackheads who start all the trouble in L’Argent

18. “Military dude digging Belmondo’s shambling American schtick in Pierrot le fou.” —@eshynes

17. Miserable girl with the lips in Antonioni’s “Tentato suicidio” segment of L’Amore in città

16. The assassin with the tight trousers and receding hairline in Z (Marcel Bozzuffi)


15. The “I’m not a fascist, I’m a patriot” kid in Murmur of the Heart

14. The dissembling fatty in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Daisuke Katō)

13. The father, philandering shopkeeper, and soon-to-be widower in La Gueule ouverte (Hubert Deschamps)

12. The disconcertingly fit middle-aged bachelor libertine in Pauline at the Beach (Féodor Atkine)

11. The motorcyclist/murderer in Les bonnes femmes (Mario Davis)

When A Woman Ascends the Stairs

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

10. The scholar talking Balzac in Out 1 (Eric Rohmer)

9. The houseboat-sized, plum brandy-swilling “Professor” in Satantango

8. Kannuki, the giant, in Yojimbo (Namigoro Rashomon)

7. Marceline in Chronicle of a Summer (Marceline Ivens)

6. The awkward antiwar American who relieves Sandrine Bonnaire of her virginity and tells off the French Navy in À Nos Amours (Tom Stevens)

Beware of a Holy Whore

5. “The ‘I’ve got such muskles!’ guy in Beware of a Holy Whore” —@JohnMagary

4. The meddling auntie in Late Spring (Haruko Sugimara)

3. Alexandre’s friend in The Mother and the Whore (Jacques Renard)

2. Marcel in Belle de Jour (Pierre Clementi)



1. The mentor pickpocket in Pickpocket (Henri Kassagi)


Now, what is a list like this good for if not to be analyzed to determine what it says about trends in society as a whole—or, in this case, what it says about myself and a dozen or so people that I know socially or on social media?

The fact that there are more than a few grandmothers is attributable to the fact that the list is disproportionately drawn from Western European nations, particularly the films of the French New Wave and New German Cinema, which is in turn at least partly reflective of my viewing habits, good or bad. These are cinemas in which grandparents were treated with a reverence rarely afforded the parents—take for example the tremendous tenderness that R.W. Fassbinder extends to Brigitte Mira, the Emma of his Fear Eats the Soul (74), as opposed to how he casts his own mother, Lilo Pompeit, in rather more ambivalent roles. The reasons for this are not difficult to speculate on. The parents of the generation of filmmakers raised during the Second World War—a great many of them, at least—appeared in some way politically compromised by the events of the war years, while the grandparents, by dint of age, could emerge relatively unscathed. (Sadly, by virtue of her starring role in Numéro zero [71], I was unable to include Jean Eustache’s formidable grand-mère, Odette Robert.)

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Many of the finalists were included by dint of the oddity, the fact that they stick out from the movie like the proverbial sore thumb. This may be a matter of physical exceptionality, as in the case of human blow-up doll Barbara Valentin—a propos of nothing, a close, personal friend of Freddie Mercury’s—Amazonian Detroit-born model Donyale Luna in Satyricon (69), or the 6-foot 7-inch professional wrestler Namigoro Rashomon, who played the mallet-wielding giant Kannuki in Yojimbo and also has a bit part in Frank Tashlin and Jerry Lewis’s Geisha Boy (58). The list also reflects my weakness—apparently shared by others—for awkward English, ESL or otherwise, as evinced by the presence of the pointy-bearded “American” tourist who collects crucifixes in Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 I Am Cuba (“Here’s a tasty morsel!”), and the doltish American sailor in Godard’s Pierrot le fou (65).

Pierrot le fou also boasts the most quotable of the Godardian director cameos, numerous enough to constitute a listicle unto themselves. There are a surfeit of what might be termed celebrity walk-ons here, the preponderance of filmmakers among them in a certain sense bearing out the idea of art-house cinema as a “director’s” cinema. The greatest of these, soon to be visible to a wider viewing public when Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 (71) is released on Blu-ray by Carlotta Films, is Eric Rohmer as “Le balzacien.” Choosing among Maurice Pialat’s screen performances, I opted for his Inspector Constant in Claud Chabrol’s This Man Must Die (69), described by Jean Narboni as “massive, abrupt and incredibly gentle,” over his work in Jean Eustache’s Mes petites amoureuses—in part because I thought Pierre Edelman’s dragueur was the better representative of that film.

Another category which emerges is the non-human performance, a category in which Tsai Ming-liang particularly excels, here with the inexplicably poignant/pathetic suction-cup Bart Simpson from Vive l’amour and the cabbage doll from Stray Dogs (13), though both the reincarnated father-fish from What Time Is It There? (01) and the cockroach impaled on a compass in Rebels of the Neon Gods (92) were strong contenders. The impressive bestiary of Werner Herzog—I think of the poor cat being dropped from a second-story window in Woyzeck (79) quite often—is represented by the “Dancing Chicken” of Stroszek (77) and the swarming monkeys of Aguirre, the Wrath of God (72), who beat off a strong showing by Michel Vuillermoz’s pet simian in Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument (96), suggesting that the European monkey-movie tradition is nearly as strong as the American.

Le Pacha

Le Pacha

Beyond the exceptional physical specimens, the director-stars, and the non-humans, we find a mixture of nonprofessionals and veteran utility players. (To continue the baseball metaphors, I also created a special category for that greatest of all designated hitters, Maurice Garrel.) Among their ranks, probably only a handful of names will be recognizable to ardent cinephiles, including Pierre Clementi, who had leading-man looks but an artistic sensibility that drew him to the fringe, and Haruko Sugimura who, though among Japan’s most renowned stage actresses (she originated the role of Blanche Dubois on the Japanese stage!), was generally consigned to character parts in movies. Others, though not household names stateside, seem to have led very busy careers indeed—Hubert Deschamps, who memorably gropes a young woman in his shop while his wife lies dying upstairs in Pialat’s La Gueule ouverte (74), has 213 actor credits at IMDb, just shy of Pauline at the Beach’s Féodor Atkine, who is still grinding them out. Mario David, the leathern, pencil-mustached motorcyclist in Chabrol’s Les Bonnes femmes (60) who presides over the strangest first date scene ever filmed, was another in-demand journeyman with a list of credits as long as your arm—his last role was again for Chabrol, in 1994’s L’Enfer. Seattle-born Billy Kearns, the loudmouthed American wearing the Stetson in Playtime, was a specialist in expat roles requiring the suffix “américain”: “Le producteur américain,” “L’officier américain,” “L’acheteur américain,” “Un client américain,” and so on.

To return briefly to the idea of a “director’s cinema,” it is worth asking how many of the entries in this exclusive pantheon constitute a creative collaboration between actor and director, and how many are a matter of the director’s “use” of a performer. To discriminate between the two is difficult to impossible, for it is part of the director’s role to know how much is enough of a good thing, while the performer makes the most of what they’re given, and the movie is theirs for however long they have hold of it.

Belle de Jour

In many cases, we find a career which consists of a single shot at the brass ring. As often as workaday veterans, this list is filled with one-and-done (or two-and-through) stars, veritable flashes across the firmament. Jacques Renard’s turn as Alexandre’s acerbic, high-handed pal in Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (73) was one of only two acting credits, though he would go on to be a prolific director of TV movies. (The part was based on Eustache’s friend Jean-Jacques Schuhl, who won the Prix Goncourt in 2000 for a novel about his live-in lover, the Fassbinder discovery Ingrid Caven—who, come to think of it, should probably be on this list somewhere.) Tunisian-born Henri Kassagi aka Kassagi, the “technical advisor,” real-life sneak-thief, and scene-stealer from Bresson’s Pickpocket (59), made a handful of other screen appearances, but assayed his brief fame into another sleight-of-hand career as a stage magician. As to the fate of the “I’ve got such muskles!” guy from Beware of a Holy Whore, the Internet at least offers no clues, though I would pay dearly for any leads.