Le Pays De France - Arthouse favourite Andre Wilms dies aged 74

Paris -
Arthouse favourite Andre Wilms dies aged 74
Arthouse favourite Andre Wilms dies aged 74

Arthouse favourite Andre Wilms dies aged 74

French actor Andre Wilms, who appeared in a string of arthouse hits by cult Finnish film director Aki Kaurismaki, has died at the age of 74.

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Wilms' hangdog expression was deployed by the Finnish master of melancholy in an array of roles in his lugubrious tragicomedies, from a struggling author who ends up shining shoes in "Le Havre" (2011) to a CIA agent hunting a Russian rock band who stole the Statue of Liberty's nose in "Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses".

He won best supporting actor at the European Film Awards in 1992 for his part in the critically acclaimed "La vie de boheme", in which Kaurismaki begins the stories of the battered characters who later appear in "Le Havre".

Often seen as the director's alter ego, Wilms also appeared in "Juha" as well as such international hits as Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" and Agnieszka Holland's Holocaust drama "Europa Europa" (1990).

Wilms, who was expected to star in several forthcoming plays and films, died in a Paris hospital on Wednesday, his agent told AFP, though his family declined to give a cause of death.

- Brooding presence -

Born in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, hard by the German border, Wilms began as a plasterer before going to work as a technician in a theatre in Toulouse.

It was there that he began his acting career as an extra before his brooding presence and care-worn face began to win him bigger roles.

"They always cast me as a Nazi because I spoke good German," he recalled.

He soon made the leap to film as French cinema looked for authentic-looking working class leading men to be the next Gerard Depardieu.

However, he was cast against type in his first French hit, the class divide comedy "Life Is a Long Quiet River" as the head of a snobby Catholic family.

The nature-against-nurture satire turns on his son being swapped at birth with the daughter of a clan of petty criminal working-class layabouts.

A far-left activist in his youth, Wilms was a committed Maoist in the early 1970s.

"We were desperately searching for that utopia," he later recalled. "We hoped and believed in the Chinese revolution. And then all that collapsed. A few of my comrades killed themselves, others became mute" after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"I really believed in it. I thought even that theatre could change things," he added.

Wilms' latest film, "Maigret" in which he starred opposite Depardieu, is due to be released in France later this month.