Claude Berri (1934-2009)

Posted by · 4:49 am · January 14th, 2009

Claude Berri, who passed away on Monday at the age of 74, may not have been the most gifted or prolific of French filmmakers, but I owe him an awful lot — not least the fact that I speak French in the first place.

At a very young age, I saw “Jean de Florette,” Berri’s exquisite 1986 adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s classic story of corrupted rural power games, and was thoroughly enraptured — by the painterly textures of the Provençal landscape, by the iconic melancholy of Jean-Claude Petit’s Verdi-interpolating score, by the masterly interplay of three generations of French acting talent (Montand, Depardieu and Auteuil), and by the rhythms and poetry of the language itself.

“Florette” (and its follow-up, “Manon Des Sources”) triggered a fascination with French culture and cinema that has stuck with me to this day, and as Xan Brooks points out in today’s Guardian, I wasn’t the only one claimed by its influence. In Britain, in particular, the film represented a milestone in crossover arthouse cinema, generating near-blockbuster figures, nabbing a BAFTA for Best Film, and chiming into a renewed public interest in the Continent.

Nothing else in his directing CV quite stands up to that mammoth achievement (though he actually won an Oscar for his 1962 short “Le Poulet”), but it’s really as a producer that he made his largest, and most lasting, contribution to global cinema: among the numerous arthouse projects he shepherded to our screens are such landmarks as Polanski’s extraordinary “Tess,” the hit bodice-ripper “La Reine Margot” and last year’s delightful critics’ darling “Couscous” (or “The Secret of the Grain,” depending on your side of the Atlantic).   

For most film buffs, however, it’s the gorgeous strains of the music below that will forever spring to mind first when Berri’s name is mentioned. Qu’il repose en paix.

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2 responses so far

  • 1 1-14-2009 at 5:23 am

    Chris said...

    Oh, I didn’t even know he had passed away.
    It’s nice though that the last film he produced became the biggest box office success in French cinema history. I suppose that’s a good way to go then.

  • 2 1-14-2009 at 6:30 pm

    Scott Ward said...

    Thinks Guy for introducing me to a new filmmaker. I’ll be sure to check out some of his work.