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Gaspard Ulliel, a shooting star: the departed prodigy of French cinema

By February 4, 2022 No Comments

by Audrey Bonn


Who was Gaspard Ulliel?

He was a eighteen-year old soldier thrown into the bloodshed of the First World War, engraving the initials of his girlfriend in the middle of No Man’s Land.

He was a talented young psychiatrist who gradually developed a particular taste for killing people- and eating them. 

He was the handsome Duke de Guise in 16th-century France, as ruthless a warrior as a lover.

He was, among others, Louis, a 34-years old boy who has to tell his family he is going to die.

He was this promising young actor, French cinema’s rising star, model for the greatest fashion houses, rewarded by two Cesars. 

He was the father of a six-years old boy. A man who went skiing in Savoy for the holidays, just like so many others, and died there. 


Gaspard Ulliel will never stop being all of these facets  -because what else is death if it is not a mere suspension of time, the sudden change from  “is” to “was”, an unbearable certainty that nothing will change anymore. The intolerable use of a word antithetical to life – “never”.


Some people did not understand why there was so much drama for only one actor – an actor that numerous people did not even know. But he was more than that. 

He was the hope of a modest cinéma d’auteur. He embodied the revival, maybe, of a certain French movie. Not the type of movies blowing up the box-office. The ones that you see without thinking of it, and to which you think again and again -and that you never forget. The kind of films some optimistic critics would call the “new New Wave” -the golden age of French cinema with the movies of Truffaut, Godard, Varda, and many more. He was to this French cinema what he was himself to others -a discreet promise, a secret hope, a rising star. 


But, once again, he is not only that. 

Just as so many others before him, too many, he is the very illustration of the injustice of death, which takes away the old man just as quickly as the child. He is the very symbol of the helplessness of men, the irrelevance, at the end, of all the things we believe important and spend our lives fighting for. He reminds us how fragile and ephemeral we all are, regardless of our ages, wealth, or talents. He is also the memory of all the anonymous who died too early, forgotten in a world that will keep going. Whatever happens. 

“There’s no age to die. Besides, there’s only an age to live” said François Morel on France Inter. 

But is Gaspard Ulliel really dead? 

In a touching tribute to the young actor on Instagram, Xavier Dolan wrote, “your quiet laughter, your watchful eye. Your scar. Your talent. Your listening. Your whispering, your kindness. All the features of your person were actually derived from a sparkling sweetness.” 

Yet, partly thanks to him Gaspard Ulliel will never die. He will stay forever this young and rising actor who deeply moved cinema critics in It’s Only The End of The World for which he won his second Cesar. He moved, and will move all those who will see him, tomorrow and every day that will follow. Now he is immortal, his name frozen in the present time. Others would testify: Jean-Pierre Jeunet with A Very Long Engagement. Bertrand Bonello with Saint Laurent. Bertrand Tavernier with The Princess of Montpensier, if he had not left us as well last year. And so many others… 

Is it even possible to have so many lives and only one death? 

The facts themselves tell us it’s not, since in March 2022 he will appear again on our screens in a completely new genre for him: the Marvel mega production Moon Knight. Definitely, Gaspard Ulliel has not finished surprising us…


“Would you grow old with me?” Freya Mavor asks him as Louise Arron, in the French series Twice Upon a Time. She continues:

“You see, the speed of a shooting star…? Well, that’s us”

What could we answer to such a true and prophetical statement? How can we possibly go on without thinking about that, all the time? How do we mourn, and then move on to something else, leaving all the sadness behind? 

Gaspard Ulliel, as Vincent Dauda, gives us the answer. Raising his blue eyes towards us, he says,

“We must live in the moment…that’s the only solution”.

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