Prolific French film-maker Claude Chabrol, who helped start the New Wave movement in the 1950s and went on to create some of the darkest portrayals on the silver screen, died on Sunday aged 80.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy compared Chabrol to 19th century novelist Honore de Balzac and Renaissance writer Francois Rabelais, hailing “a great author and a great film maker”.
“He took the finesse of his social depictions from Balzac. His humour and vividness he got from Rabelais, but he was most of all himself in his films, as in life. And I’m certain that everyone will miss him,” Sarkozy said.
Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe noted the disappearance of “the inventor of an inspired, abounding and profoundly human cinema… Chabrol produced an immense and particularly original work, that is today a monument of French cinema.”
Born in Paris on June 24, 1930, Chabrol became famous for his sombre portrayals of French provincial bourgeois life.
Along with Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, he was an icon of French New Wave cinema, with all three writing for the renowned Cahiers du Cinema.
Chabrol authored dozens of films over more than 50 years, from his first work, “Le Beau Serge”, made in 1958 thanks to his wife’s inheritance, to his last film, “Bellamy”, starring Gerard Depardieu which was released last year.
Raised in a family of pharmacists, he spent World War II in the countryside south of Paris, before studying French literature and pharmacy in the capital.
After university, he began writing for Cahiers du Cinema alongside future film heavyweights Truffaut and Godard.
He swiftly achieved fame with “Le Beau Serge” — often considered the first film of the New Wave movement — winning the Locarno Festival’s Grand Prix, while his next work “Les Cousins” won the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear in 1969.
His second wife, Stephane Audran, was the star of many of his films, including “La Femme Infidele”, “Le Boucher” and “Juste Avant La Nuit”, in 1970.
As part of the New Wave movement — a term coined by critics as La Nouvelle Vague — Chabrol joined a group of young directors, including Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette, who rejected classical Hollywood cinema.
Their work was steeped in the political and social upheavals of the time, and experimented with new techniques in lighting, editing and narrative — anything that would break with dominant conservative film-making practice.
“I knew there would be difficulties, and sometimes I went quite far, but in the end I’m fairly happy, because more than four-fifths of the films I made correspond more or less with what I wanted to do,” he told AFP in 2009.
His depictions of the “petite bourgeoisie” of small-town France were often uncomfortable to watch, showing the greed and cruelty of families crushed by the need for respectable appearances while concealing festering scandals.
He showcased the up-and-coming Isabelle Huppert in his 1978 “Violette Noziere” about a famous teenage poisoner in the 1930s. Chabrol went on to give her the lead role in five other films, many depicting monstrous yet respectable characters.
“He had in himself a mixture of coldness, often humour, a quality of observation,” Huppert told France Info.
“He filmed me as though I was his daughter, he did not film me as an object of desire, which sometimes shapes a relationship between a director and his actress.”
His lighter works included crime films “Inspecteur Lavardin” and “Poulet au vinaigre”, starring Jean Poiret, which had huge commercial success in France.
At the peak of a career during which he made more than 80 films for cinema and television, the Acadamie Francaise awarded Chabrol the Rene Clair Prize in 2005.
Depardieu, who starred in Chabrol’s last feature-length film, hailed his love of life.
“He had this love of food, of sharing, this wit, he had everything, he had the history of cinema, passion, he also had childishness, laughter,” Depardieu told RTL radio.
Chabrol married his third wife, Aurore Pajot, in 1983, and leaves behind four children.
SBS TWO will screen Chabrol’s The Bridesmaid on Saturday, September 18 to commemorate his work.