Luckily for me, it was a hoax. I’m absolutely sure of that because I just got back from seeing him on stage at the Théâtre St. Georges. And he was very much alive. Alive and doing what Galabru does best: hamming it up for the greater joy of the audience.
You may have seen Galabru if you’re a big movie fan. Lord knows he’s made 250 films. He usually plays the clown, as in any of the Gendarme series or more subtly in Besson’s Subway (1985), but is totally capable of playing serious roles such as the simple-minded but murderous Sergeant Bouvier in Tavernier’s Le Juge et L’Assassin (1976), for which he won a César (the French Oscar) for best actor.
On stage, he’s done everything from Molière (having been a member of the troupe of the Comédie Française) to Ionesco to Goldoni to Neil Simon. But tonight he’s starring in a “play” that’s actually a cobbling together of three short stories written by Alphonse Daudet in his late 1800s work, Lettres de Mon Moulin. All had been reworked by author/director Marcel Pagnol, the first two for a film in 1954 and the last for television in 1968. The director is someone Galabru knows well: his son, Jean, who also plays roles in all three... let’s call them sketches.
The second sketch, L’élixir du Père Gaucher, has a message that's still relevant today because it concerns corporate greed, albeit at a lower level. It all starts with the abbot complaining that the Benedictines are rich because of the liqueur they make, but his order is as poor as... well, church mice. Then in walks arrives Brother Gaucher, back from the funeral of his deceased aunt, who has left him the recipe for her elixir. As the aunt taught Brother Gaucher not only a whole repertoire of bawdy songs but also how to make the elixir, the decision is made to go into production. The problem is that Brother Gaucher has to taste each batch to make sure it’s been made right... and that usually ends up with him singing the bawdy songs and doing other things one does when one has tibbled a bit too many drops. Fearing for the health of his eternal soul, he is ultimately talked out of quitting by the abbot, who has used the profits to refurbish the abbey, as well as by the apothecary, who is getting rich out of marketing the elixir. This was the sketch I enjoyed the least, and also the one where Galabru’s character was the least outstanding.
|Left to right: Nadine Capri, Jean Galabru, Michel Galabru, Maxime Lombard|
All three sketches have a common thread: Man’s infinite weakness and susceptibility to Earthly Pleasures. And in all three, Galabru - still verbally spry at 91 - does what he does best: stumble over words, roll his eyes and make rubbery faces that may be over the top but only when done less well.
If understatement is what you’re after, then Galabru is not for you. But the spectators had come for Galabru, and Galabru they got.
For a look at Galabru’s performances, try Le Juge et L’assassin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=webWtkGmULY
or the Gendarmes in New York: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Skza0AoH71U