One of France’s greatest movie-makers Alain Resnais has died aged 91.
Initially a short film and documentary film maker, his “Night and Fog” about the Nazi concentration camps was influential and made his name, following collaborations with Britain’s Chris Marker and a series of films about painters.
Memory and the tricks it plays was key to his work, and in 1959 the feature film that established him as a major voice, “Hiroshima mon amour” broke him internationally, He followed that in 1961 with “Last year in Marienbad”, equally successful, if baffling for some.
He was well on the way to reinventing cinema’s narrative structure, and until 1968 made a series of political films tackling Algeria, Vietnam and other sensitive issues.
After that he made science-fiction, the memorable and rarely-seen “I love you, I love you”, drama, comedy, and adaptations. 1977’s “Providence”, his first film in English, put John Gielgud and Dirk Bogarde together; 1980’s “My American Uncle” was a popular success.
He then began to progressively integrate elements of theatre into his work, and took the use of music beyond mere background scene-setting, making the score into a character in its own right.
In 1989 he even took on the world of cartoons and comic books with “I want to go home” as he continued to trawl deeply into popular culture. He owned the largest private collection of comics in France.
Having filmed in English, he then turned his attention to a British writer, the playwright Alan Ayckbourn, for a series of films, putting difficult-to-adapt theatre material onto the screen. 1993’s “Smoking/No smoking” compressed Ayckbourn’s “Intimate exchanges”, previously thought unfilmable. Two of his favourite actors, Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi, played all the roles.
“Same old song” was a 1997 tribute to the television work of another Englishman Dennis Potter, a kindred spirit for his innovative use of music. As a director he consistently valued his writers’ inputs and refused to write screenplays himself, considering the collaboration a vital part of the creative process, and giving his writers equal credit alongside himself.
His last film, yet to be released, is “Aimer, boire, chanter”, based on Ayckbourn’s “Life of Riley”.
He won two Césars, (the French Oscar), and two prizes in Venice, Berlin, and Cannes, which awarded him a “Lifetime achievement” prize in 2009.