Jean Gabin, born Jean-Alexis Moncorgé on this date in 1904, was a great actor. That much is clear from his screen work for Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Julien Duvivier, Max Ophuls and many other masters. He was also the kind of actor whom audiences take to heart for reasons we can't necessarily explain but that we understand.
A big, gruff, broad-shouldered man with a face that seems to be constructed of boulders, Gabin exemplified attitudes and aptitudes that were peculiarly French. Just as we Americans see something of our own idealized masculinity in John Wayne's mix of sardonic swagger and moral forthrightness, the French see Gabin as the strong, silent centurion of French values. And like John Wayne , who nearly became a society-wide joke after the youth quake of the '60s, Gabin briefly seemed to be an icon of the Gaullist silent majority in France, but like Wayne, he overcame it.
In 1974, Gabin, seventy years old and as beloved as ever, a symbol of the France that overcame the wars and never lost its essential qualities as a nation, recorded "Maintenant Je Sais." In his off-hand way he talk-croons his way through the sentimental song, as lugubrious strings saw away in the background. There's a lot of vulgarity to overcome here, but Gabin, as he always seemed to do, made it look effortless. The song was a major, iconic hit in the French speaking world, and now generations who may never see a Jean Gabin film know his name because of this song.
The lyrics in translation:
When I was a child, knee high to a grasshopper I used to speak very loudly to be a man I used to say, I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW
It was the beginning, it was spring But when I turned 18 I said, I KNOW, here I go - this time I KNOW
And now, every time I turn around I look at the earth, a place I paced up and down though And I still don't know how it turns
When I was about 25, I knew everything Love, roses, life, money Oh yeah, love! I knew it thoroughly!
And luckily, like my mates I hadn't eaten up all my bread Halfway through my life, I learned new things again
What I've learned takes up only four, five words: On the day when someone loves you, the weather is very fine I can't say it better - the weather is very fine
That's the last thing to amaze me about life I who am in the autumn of my life You can forget so many evenings of sadness But never a morning of tenderness
All the time when I was young, I wanted to say I KNOW However, the more I searched, the less I knew then
The clock has stricken 60 I'm still standing at my window, looking out and wondering
Now I KNOW, I KNOW THAT YOU NEVER KNOW!
Life, love, money, friends and roses You never know the noise nor the color of things That's all I know! But I KNOW that..