Claude Berri, 'godfather' of French film, dies at 74

13th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

French filmmaker and producer Claude Berri, whose work as a director includes the much loved two-part saga on life in Provence "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources", died Monday aged 74.

 PARIS - A pillar of French film who also produced a string of successes including last year's blockbuster "Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis", Berri passed away in a Paris hospital, where he was admitted on Saturday night.

"Claude Berri left us this morning as a result of a stroke suffered Saturday night," his agency Moteur! said in a statement.

Known as the "godfather" of French film, Berri worked with generations of top French actors from Yves Montand to Gerard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Beart and was currently directing his 20th film, a comedy called "Tresor".

Berri, who won an Oscar for his 1963 short film "Le Poulet", went on to direct the hit Provencal saga based on the novels of Marcel Pagnol following years later with a screen adaptation of Emile Zola's "Germinal".

He also produced a string of hit movies, from Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning film "Tess", to the critically-acclaimed 2007 movie "La Graine et Le Mulet (The Secret of the Grain)".

Last year, he was one of the producers of the record-breaking comedy "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis", which mocked prejudices about the bleak post-industrial north of France.

The film became the highest-grossing film in French box-office history and is set for a Hollywood remake under the title "Welcome to the Sticks".

President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to Berri as one of the most gifted producers and directors of his generation and "the most legendary figure of French cinema".

"He could tackle all genres, he made us laugh and cry, but most of all, he would make his audience think and raise questions," Sarkozy said.

Berri had suffered a stroke once before in 2006 and had been ill for some time.

Born Claude Langmann to working-class parents in central Paris, he started his cinematic career as an actor, but when that did not work out he opted for short films.

His piece "Le Poulet" ("The Chicken") won an Oscar for the best work in that genre in 1965.

Among the 50-odd feature films Berri produced were "Je t'aime moi non plus" ("I love you, I don't"), directed in 1976 by the eccentric singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, and "Tess" the same year, based on Thomas Hardy's novel.

Berri achieved lasting fame as a director, with works such as "Le vieil homme et l'enfant" ("The Old Man and The Boy") in 1966, "Mazel Tov", a 1969 comedy about a Jewish wedding entitled "Marry Me! Marry Me!" in the United States, and the 1983 smash hit "Tchao Pantin", a tragi-comedy starring comedian Coluche.

He went on in 1986 to direct "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources" (Manon of the Spring), based on Pagnol's novels about life in the French countryside.

In his later years, Berri directed a 1997 film on the French Resistance heroine Lucie Aubrac, in which Carole Bouquet played the title role. Aubrac herself, who died in March 2007, worked on the screenplay.

Bouquet had described Berri as "angst-filled" and difficult to work with while Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar said he was "a sad man who was able to be happy".

Married twice and the father of three children, Berri was also a leading collector of abstract art, with his own gallery in Paris, and in later years served as head of France's main film archive, the Cinematheque.

By Frederique Pris

[AFP/ Expatica]

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