Claude Miller - Director

Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 20 February 1942. Education: IDHEC Film School, Paris, 1962–63. Military Service: National service in Le Service cinématographique de l'armée, 1964. Family: Married writer Annie Miller. Career: Worked in various capacities for other directors, including René Allio, Robert Bresson, Marcel Carné, Jacques Demy, Jean-Luc Godard, and François Truffaut, from 1965; directed six-part series Traits de mémoire for TV, 1974; directed first feature, 1976; also director of TV advertisements;

Claude Miller
Claude Miller
President of ARP (Association des Réalisateurs Producteurs), 1999. Awards: Best Screenplay, Montreal, for Garde à vue , 1981; César for Best Scenario, for Garde à vue , 1982; Special Jury prize and Fipresci Award, Istanbul, for L'Accompagnatrice , 1993; Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival, for La Classe de neige , 1998; Fipresci Award, Berlin, for La Chambre des magiciennes , 2000.

Films as Director and Co-Scriptwriter:


Juliette dans Paris (short)


La Question ordinaire (short)


Camille ou la Comédie catastrophique (short)


La meilleure façon de marcher ( The Best Way of Walking ) (+ co-adapter, co-dialogue)


Dites-lui que je l'aime ( This Sweet Sickness ) (+ co-adapter, co-dialogue)


Garde à vue ( Under Suspicion ) (co-adapter)


Mortelle randonnée ( Deadly Circuit )


L'Effrontée ( An Impudent Girl ) (+ co-dialogue)


La Petite Voleuse ( The Little Thief ) (+ co-adapter, co-dialogue)


L'Accompagnatrice ( The Accompanist ) (+ co-adapter, co-dialogue)


Le Sourire ( The Smile ) (+ co-exec pr)


Les Enfants de Lumière ( The Children of Lumière ) (co-d); Lumière et Compagnie ( Lumière and Company ) (co-d)


La Classe de neige ( The Class Trip ) (+ co-adapter)


La Chambre des magiciennes (+ co-adapter)

Other Films:


Patrouille en zone minée (short) (for the Service Cinématographique de l'armée); Transmission de la divi- sion 59 (short; co-directed with Bernard Stora) (for the Service Cinématographique de l'armée)


Trois Chambres à Manhattan (Carné) (asst d); Nick Carter et la trèfle rouge (Savignac) (asst d); Le Dimanche de la vie (Herman) (asst d)


Au Hasard, Balthazar (Bresson) (asst d); Martin Soldat (Deville) (asst d)


Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (Demy) (asst d); 2 ou 3 Choses que je sais d'elle (Godard) (asst d, role); "Anticipation" episode of Le Plus vieux métier du monde (Godard) (asst d); La Chinoise ou plutôt à la chinoise (Godard) (asst d); Weekend (Godard) (asst d)


L'Ecume des jours (Belmont) (production manager); Baisers volés (Truffaut) (production manager); Pierre et Paul (Allio) (production manager)


La Sirène du Mississipi (Truffaut) (production manager); L'Enfant sauvage (Truffaut) (production manager, role)


Domicile conjugal (Truffaut) (production manager)


Les Deux Anglaises et le continent (Truffaut) (production manager); La Voix du large (short) (Porcile) (production manager)


Une Belle fille comme moi (Truffaut) (production manager)


Elle court, elle court la banlieue (Pirès) (asst d); La Nuit américaine (Truffaut) (production manager); Les Gaspards (Tchernia) (production manager)


L'Histoire d'Adèle H. (Truffaut) (production manager)


L'Ordinateur des pompes funèbres (Pirès) (role)


La Tortue sur le dos (Béraud) (co-sc, co-dialogue, role)


Félicité (Pascal) (role)


Plein Sud (Béraud) (co-sc, co-dialogue, role)


Vent de panique (Stora) (co-sc)


Under Suspicion (Hopkins) (co-sc)


By MILLER: articles—

Interviews in Positif (Paris), March 1976, November 1981, January 1986, February 1989, and September 1994.

Interviews in Cinématographe (Paris), April/May 1976, October 1981, July/August 1982, and October 1986.

Interview in Cinéma , April 1976.

Interview in Film Français , December 1976.

Interview in Jeune Cinéma , November 1977.

Interviews in Cinéma Français (Paris), October 1977 and March 1978.

Interviews in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1977/78 and Spring 1978.

Interview in 24 Images , no. 11, December 1981.

Interview in Télérama , September 1985.

Interviews in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1981 and May 1985.

Interviews in Première (Paris), December 1985, February 1988, and January 1989.

Interview in Revue du Cinéma , no. 412, January 1986.

Interview in Positif (Paris), no. 300, February 1986.

Interview in Cinématographe (Paris), no. 123, October 1986.

Interview with L. Bonneville, in Séquences (Montreal), April 1986.

Interview in Première (Paris), no. 131, February 1988.

Interview with G. Legrand and O. Curchod, in Positif (Paris), no.336, February 1989.

Interview in American Film , vol. 15. no. 1, October 1989.

Interview with O. Curchod, in Positif (Paris), no. 493, September 1994.

Interview with O. Curchod, in Positif (Paris), no. 419, January 1996.

Interview in Télérama (Paris), no. 2522, 13 May 1998.

"Journal du montage de La Classe de neige," in Positif (Paris), no. 448, June 1998.

Interview in Le Film Français (Paris), no. 2740, 25 September 1998.

"Miller(s) Crossing," interview with Christophe Carrière, in Première (Paris), no. 259, October 1998.

On MILLER: articles—

" La meilleure façon de marcher Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), no. 168, 1976.

" Garde à vue Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), no. 228, 1982.

Article in Revue du Cinéma , June 1984.

Article in Cahiers du Cinéma , May 1985.

Claude Miller Section of Positif (Paris), January 1986.

Chevassu, F., "Sur cinq films de Claude Miller," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 445, January 1989.

Article in Sight and Sound (London) vol.58, no. 2, Spring 1989.

Article in Film Comment , July/August 1989.

Ellero, R., "Il cinema secondo Miller," in Segno , July 1990.

"Claude Miller," in Film Dope (Nottingham, England), no. 43, January 1990.

Article in Positif , no. 403, September 1994.

Article in Studio Magazine , September 1994.

Télérama (Paris), no. 2603, 1 December 1999.

Cliff, N., "The Lord of Misrule," in The Times (London), 21 January 1999.

C., J-M., "Claude Miller enrôle des magiciennes pour Arte," in Le Film Français , no. 2774, 14 May 1999.

* * *

In character-centred films that sympathetically portray the tribulations of insecure or emotionally disturbed individuals, Claude Miller reveals close affinities with his former mentor François Truffaut. He shares not only Truffaut's humanitarian vision and refusal to moralise, but also his concern for carefully wrought narratives with an economical, resonant style.

After theoretical studies at IDHEC and work with the army film unit, Miller pursued his training under Carné, Bresson, and Demy. However, the most formative experiences came as assistant to Godard (from 2 ou 3 Choses que je sais d'elle to Weekend ) and as production manager for Truffaut (from Baisers volés to L'Histoire d'Adèle H. ). Godardian aesthetics and political perspectives distinguish Miller's two early shorts: Juliette dans Paris and La Question ordinaire. The first portrays, in deliberately disquieting detail, the feline vampirism of a seemingly demure female; the second confronts Fascism by counterposing ideological statements and shocking images of torture. Miller's third short, Camille ou la Comédie catastrophique , signals the emergence of a less self-conscious and more personal style. Primarily an exploration of sexual attitudes, the film exposes the inadequacies of two salacious seducers humiliated by the willing Camille. This debunking of male posturing anticipates Miller's first feature, La Meilleure façon de marcher. It is the feature films which reveal striking similarities with Truffaut's cinema. Miller's preference for working with a team of trusted collaborators (photographer Bruno Nuytten, scriptwriter Luc Béraud), or a given actress (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is much in the Truffaut tradition. Film as a form of personal statement is likewise common to Miller's conceptions. Thus, where the adaptation of a thriller is involved ( Dites-lui que je l'aime, Garde à vue, Mortelle randonnée, La Classe de neige ), the narrative is refocused to provide insight into the novel's tortured souls rather than a simple illustration of their evil deeds. This emphasis on the psychological aligns these adaptations with Miller's more self-evidently personal works: La Meilleure façon de marcher , L'Effrontée , Le Sourire , and, from Truffaut's unrealized scenario, La Petite Voleuse. For Miller no individual is unredeemable, and his portrayal of human frailties eschews facile condemnation. In La Meilleure façon de marcher , a moral Fascism is seen as the defence mechanism of males insecure about their own sexual orientation. Highsmith's psychotic murderer David becomes the pitiful, emotionally inadequate, and humiliated individual of Dites-lui que je l'aime. In Garde à vue , the rape investigation transforms itself into an examination of the personal relationships of detective and suspect alike, and both, in their common humanity, are found wanting. A more extreme case of symbiotic pairing, which again blurs traditional moralities, occurs in Mortelle randonnée , where the detective colludes with a multiple murderess who resembles his dead daughter. In La Petite Voleuse , as in Truffaut's 400 Coups , social circumstances largely determine the main character's descent into crime. Throughout Miller invites understanding of the misfit.

Frequently, the nature or expression of sexuality lies at the core of the narrative matrix. For Miller's male characters sex is either a clumsy or a violent act, a humiliating fiasco, or for the sexagenarian of Le Sourire , a final assertion of self. In La Classe de neige , the world of the emotionally scarred adolescent Nicolas is filled with sexual fantasies while his dysfunctional father's suppressed pedophilia is associated with obsessive images of dismemberment. By contrast the director's females are more at ease with their sexuality. In L'Effrontée and La Petite Voleuse , where the delicately observed transitional stages of adolescence are thematic, the heroines readily anticipate their first sexual experiences, disastrous though they are. In L'Accompagnatrice , Sophie similarly accepts the disappointment of her first brief love affair as part of a maturing awareness of the fickle nature of adult relationships.

With the exception of his early self-conscious shorts, the flashy Mortelle Randonnée , and the more assertive style of Le Sourire , Miller's work is characterised by understatement and stylistic sobriety: his films are concerned with sentiment rather than sensation. Acts of violence such as the murders of Dites-lui que je l'aime and La Classe de neige , or the knife incident in La Meilleure Façon de marcher are dramatically necessary, but not dramatised for effect. Self-effacing camerawork is the norm, with close-ups used unemphatically and special effects more generally confined to his advertising work. Music, however, forms an integral part of Miller's creation and assumes a particular importance both in mood and structure, perhaps no more so than in L'Accompagnatrice , Le Sourire and La Classe de neige. Economy is the hallmark of Miller's expositions and narrative development: subject, characters, and locations are succinctly established through juxtaposed scenes of symbolic resonance. The ensuing narrative is often constructed elliptically and is non-linear in form, with flash-backs and fantasies merging with actual events as meaning is gradually evolved. Since the primary purpose of narrative incident is the revelation of abnormal or antisocial behavior, once this goal has been achieved, closure often follows swiftly, and even summarily, as in the photocollage ending of Garde à vue. Locations are rarely specific. Indeed there is often a deliberate amalgamation of settings, as in L'Effrontée , to achieve generality. Places have importance not as geographical references but as symbolic elements in the exploration of character. The contrastive locations, ordinary house/luxurious mansion, of L'Effrontée represent the pubescent heroine's reality and her dream; in L'Accompagnatrice , the protagonist is dazzled by the glamorous life-style of wealthy Nazi sympathizers and, rejecting her own modest background, plays along with their values; in Dites-lui que je l'aime , the dark, rainy streets are metaphorical expressions of David's desperate mood; in La Classe de neige the purity of the snow-covered mountains contrasts the disturbed emotions of the sleep-walking Nicholas and the darker recesses of his father's mind. The presence of water in a Miller film is frequently associated with sexuality, has connotations of evil, and is invariably a harbinger of fatalities. The lake in Le Sourire and the swimming pools of La Meilleure Façon de marcher, Dites-lui que je l'aime , and L'Effrontée become synonymous with humiliation and death.

Period settings are left equally vague to suggest universality, and in this respect, Miller's uncommon use of epilogues (La Meilleure Façon de marcher, Dites-lui que je l'aime) constitutes a distancing from the immediate events with a prolongation of the temporal perspective. La Petite Voleuse and L'Accompagnatrice are exceptions: the moral dilemmas posed by the Occupation are integral to the thematics of L'Accompagnatrice , while the moral climate of the postwar years is essential to the dynamics of La Petite Voleuse. The director's films of the last decade may be seen as works of transition and renewal. L'Accompagnatrice testifies to enduring thematic concerns with personal values in a morally fluid society which challenges notions of integrity, fidelity, and compromise. However, Miller's customary freshness is lacking and the film comes close to cliché and dullness. A new directness marks the referential Le Sourire , which, entirely scripted by Miller, signals a return to the more personal statements of La Meilleure Façon de marcher or L'Effrontée , and through its obsessional phobic images of blood and vomiting to the early Godardian short Juliet dans Paris. The opening, contrastive locations—the clinic representing order and the fairground social disruption—and the constant mood switches through alternating jazz and classical scores recall Miller at his most accomplished. After two features without children as their subject matter, La Classe de neige marks a successful return to more familiar territory: exploring though the crime genre, formative childhood years corrupted by the murkier realities of the adult world. Produced by his wife Annie, the film was the first to be backed by Warner in France and was awarded the Jury's Prize at the 1998 Cannes Festival.

Although Claude Miller emerged as one of the most promising new French directors of the 1980s, he has directed only three feature films in the last decade, partly due to poor health, but largely because of funding difficulties. In 1997 ambitious plans for a new version of Zola's Nana with Emmanuelle Seigneur as the free-spending actress-cum-courtesan failed to attract sufficient financial backing, and most recently Miller has turned to experimenting with digital video cameras for La Chambre des magiciennes , adapted from Les Yeux bandés , Siri Hustvedt's intimate novel about two hospitalised women sharing their stories. Nevertheless, in 1995, along with forty other well-known directors, Miller marked his enduring commitment to traditional cinema by contributing to compilation films honoring the pioneering work of the Lumière brothers ( Lumière et compagnie and Les Enfants de Lumière ).

Miller's cinema is a gallery of perceptively drawn portraits, in which delicately observed details register the elusive complexities of human nature. His vulnerable, often misguided and dysfunctional characters, existing in societies where difference is barely tolerated, are invariably bruised and humiliated in their progress towards mature self-knowledge and self-sufficiency. Yet the director's optimism determines that, for the most part, they grow in strength through their experiences, securing their individuality in a world that seeks to deny it.

—R. F. Cousins

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