Veteran French film-maker Claude Chabrol, one of the founders of the French New Wave movement and a master director famed for his dark portrayals of French provincial bourgeois life, died Sunday. He was 80.
A close friend of acclaimed French film-makers Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, Chabrol was a film critic for “Cahiers du cinema,” an influential film theory magazine, before launching his career as a director.
That career spanned 58 years and more than 70 films, including much-loved classics such as “Hell” and “The Butcher”.
His 1959 film “Les Cousins” won the top Golden Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival and two of his other films – “Violette” (1978) and “Poulet au Vinaigre” (1985) - were nominated for the Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
“He had an incredible and uncommonly long career behind the camera,” said Rebecca Lessler, the Paris correspondent for the Hollywood Reporter, a Los Angeles-based trade publication, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “The entire French film industry is in mourning.”
Bourgeois life, violence - and lots of eating
Chabrol’s first film, “Le Beau Serge” (1958) is widely considered a manifesto of the New Wave movement - or La Nouvelle Vague, as it’s known in French.
The “enfants terribles” of the New Wave movement, which gripped cinema in the 1960s and ‘70s, self-consciously rejected classical cinematic forms, infusing their distinctive works with a youthful, rebellious tone that embodied the spirit of a generation.
Primarily financed by an inheritance received by his then wife Agnès Goute, “Le Beau Serge” is a short 28-minute film, made in collaboration with French director Jacques Rivette.
In 1968, Chabrol emerged with what is considered his most stylistically and psychological mature film, “Les Biches”, a masterful study of sexual tensions, starring his second-wife Stéphane Audran.
Audran also starred in his acclaimed 1970 film, “La Femme Infidel,” one of several Chabrol films featuring his second wife.
A well-loved director and darling of the French cultural establishment, Chabrol, once famously quipped that, “a woman confronting men is a proper subject. It is inexhaustible”.
Many of his films, which often dealt with the tension between bourgeois repression and a simmering underlying violence, featured elaborate meals around the dinner table.
In a December 2009 interview with FRANCE 24, Chabrol noted that when he watched films as a young man, he often got “the impression people never eat in films” a shortcoming he set about addressing in his films. “When I got into directing, I told myself if ever made films, people would eat in them,” he said. “You need to show that to live, you have to eat."
Prolific, talented and well-loved
Born in Paris on June 24, 1930, Chabrol grew up in the rural region of Creuse in central France. It was to these provincial settings that he would return throughout his film-making career.
Like all New Wave films, Chabrol’s movies have, what is called “la politique des auteurs” – or the political signature of an author. But his work was also considered more mainstream and accessible to cinema audiences. An admirer of British director Alfred Hitchcock, Chabrol’s films often featured quintessentially Hitchcockian elements of intense psychological suspense.
Hitchcock returned the admiration, and stated that he wished that he had made Charbrol’s "The Butcher".
Among the French cinema community, he was incredibly popular and, over the years, came to be viewed as a jovial avuncular figure.
Speaking to FRANCE 24, Lessler noted that not only does Chabrol “leave his footprint” on French and world cinema, but he also managed to accomplish that and be loved by the industry; a rare feat.
“The people he worked with seem to think that he was one of the most enjoyable directors to work with,” said Lessler.
Speaking on France-Info radio, Cannes Film Festival Director Thierry Fremaux said that despite his age, Chabrol “continued to work, and the energy, feeling and joie de vivre that he always showed made you think he'd always be around.''
Chabrol’s last film, “Bellamy” was released in 2009.
In his tribute to the iconic film director, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon called Chabrol a “great director, producer and screenwriter (who) was one of the grand figures of ‘La Nouvelle Vague,’ which revolutionised the style and techniques of cinema by looking at real experience, true life, that which is indiscreet and subtle.”