Obituary: Alan Corneau, film director
Alain Corneau, film director. Born: 7 August, 1943, in Orleans, France. Died: 30 August, 2010, in Paris, aged 67.
Alain Corneau was an eclectic French film director and writer who in 1991 leaned on his own experience as a musician to make Tous les Matins du Monde, a critically praised movie about an 18th-century Baroque composer.
His films included science fiction, police thrillers, a look at office politics in Japan and a mood piece about ancient India, but his big success was Tous les Matins, which took its title from a sentence in the novel by the same name by Pascal Quignard. That sentence, reflecting the mystical fatalism of a main character, is sometimes translated as "Every morning on Earth is irrevocable."
The film was nominated for 11 Csar awards, the French equivalent of the Oscar, and won seven, including best film, best director and best music. In the year after it was released in France, it sold more than two million tickets there. It was shown in 31 countries.
"Many people got emotional about this film, and that made it possible for it to escape cult status," Corneau said in 1992 of the film's broad success. The movie concerned the relationship between the Versailles court composer Marin Marais and his teacher Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe. It helped inspire renewed interest in French Baroque music, and its soundtrack reached No 2 on French sales charts, displacing all but Michael Jackson.
Corneau's painstaking attention to detail included requiring that all the principal actors take six months of arduous lessons to learn the fingering for playing the viola de gamba, a bowed, fretted, stringed instrument used primarily in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
A sharp departure from cinematic convention was the six-minute opening sequence, which has been described as one of the longest extreme close-ups of a major star ever filmed. The face was that of the actor Grard Depardieu, and it was hardly pretty: he was made up to look artificially aged and had teary eyes.
Another novel decision was casting Depardieu's 21-year-old son, Guillaume, to play Marais at different stages of life. Corneau explained that he wanted to avoid the usual shock to audiences when young and old versions of a character do not match.
"Corneau pursued an unceasing investigation into what makes humans human," President Nicolas Sarkozy said this week.
Alain Corneau was introduced to jazz by American soldiers and began playing the drums and piano. He later expanded his musical enthusiasms to Baroque and Indian music, and saw intriguing connections between these idioms and modern jazz. He retained his interest in music even after going to Paris to study filmmaking.He tried unsuccessfully to make a documentary in New York and to adapt a novel for the screen in Los Angeles.
He worked as an assistant director on Costa Gavras's film L'Aveu (The Confession) in 1970. In 1973 he made his first film, France, Inc, a science fiction picture that was well reviewed but commercially unsuccessful. He moved on to a series of three noir movies.
His third film, Choice of Arms (1981), had a star-laden cast that included Yves Montand, Catherine Deneuve and Grard Depardieu. His other films included Fort Saganne (1984), a lusty three-hour romance starring Deneuve and Depardieu that at the time had the biggest budget of any French film in history. It opened the Cannes International Film Festival.
Corneau's last film, Love Crime, tells of the caustic conflict between two women in an office and turns into a whodunit.
Alan Corneau is survived by his wife, the director, producer and screenwriter Nadine Trintignant.
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