What a truly remarkable career French character actor Michele Delehaye has had. In a career spanning more than forty years with almost a hundred films on his resume (including many with some of France’s greatest directors) the ‘Grandmaster’ in Jean Rollin’s La Vampire Nue has certainly carved out a very special place for himself in modern French cinema.
Born in France in 1929 to a very strict and religious father, the early life of Delehaye was certainly an adventurous one, and it included stints at a Jesuit school, a spot in the military, postal and factory work as well as a minor brush with the law. By the mid-fifties Delehaye got his first major career break when he landed a job as a writer for Detective magazine. Soon after he made the acquaintance of one Eric Rohmer and his life changed forever.
The legendary Rohmer introduced Delehaye to the members of the French New Wave and soon he was working as a critic at the influential Cahiers du Cinema. He would write for the prestigious film journal for more than a decade before losing his position in 1969 due to political issues.
Delehaye’s first film role came in Jean-Luc Godard’s section of the 1964 anthology film Ro.Go.Pa.G and it would set in motion a career that would turn out to be incredibly prolific and noteworthy.
Appearing in front of the camera for nearly every major French New Wave director (including several for Godard and Rivette early on) Delehaye proved himself a capable and memorable actor although typically he would find himself in mostly smaller supporting roles.
The Nude Vampire marked the first time Delehaye worked with Jean Rollin, and it serves as a reminder that Rollin’s early cinema does indeed take place just a handful of years after the most potent explosion of the New Wave, even if stylistically it is deliberately far removed from it. Delehaye’s work for Rollin would prove most resonate and he would be cast in Jean’s next film as well, 1971’s Le Frisson des Vampires…that same year he would appear in both Borowczyk’s Blanche and Rivette’s Out 1 for good measure!
Delehaye, now nearing eighty years old, has never stopped working and, along with being a top-supporting player, he has also worked as a scriptwriter, helped out behind the camera and even received a special thanks from Godard himself in Histoire du Cinema. While not a major player in Jean Rollin’s filmography, a tribute to one of cinema’s great sidemen seemed in order.