Jean-Claude CarriÈre - Writer

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Writer. Nationality: French. Born: Colombières, 19 (or 17) September 1931. Career: Often worked with the director Luis Buñuel, as well as Jacques Deray, Pierre Etaix, Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, and Volker Schlöndorff; 1968—directed short La Pince à ongles ; 1985—directed feature L'Unique . Awards: Best Short Subject—Live Action Academy Award, for Heureux anniversaire, 1961; Best Screenplay British Academy Award, for Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie, 1972; Best Writing—Original Cesar Award, for Le Retour de Martin Guerre , 1982; Best Adapted Screenplay British Academy Award, for The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1988; Catalonian International Film Festival Best Screenplay, for At Play in the Fields of the Lord, 1990; Writers Guild of America Laurel Award for Screen Writing Achievement, 2000.

Films as Writer/Co-writer:


Rupture (+ co-d—short); Heureux anniversaire (+ co-d, pr—short)


Le Soupirant ( The Suitor ) (Etaix)

Jean-Claude Carrière (right) with Gregory Peck
Jean-Claude Carrière (right) with Gregory Peck


Nous n'irons plus au bois (Etaix; expanded into Tant qu'on a la santé , 1965); Insomnie (Etaix) (+ ro); Le Bestaire d'amour (Calderon); Le Journal d'une femme de chambre ( The Diary of a Chambermaid ) (Buñuel) (+ ro as The Priest)


Yoyo (Etaix); La Reine verte ( The Green Queen ) (Mazoyer)


Viva Maria! (Malle); Cartes sur table (Franco)


Belle de jour (Buñuel); Miss Muerte ( The Diabolical Dr. Z ) (Franco); Hotel Paradiso (Glenville)


Le Voleur ( The Thief of Paris ) (Malle)


La Pince à ongles (+ d—short); La Piscine ( The Swimming Pool ) (Deray); Le Grand Amour (Etaix)


La Voie Lactée ( The Milky Way ) (Buñuel) (+ ro as Priscillian)


L'Alliance (de Chalonge) (+ ro as Hugues); Taking Off (Forman); Borsalino (Deray)


Un Peu de soleil dans l'eau froide (Deray) (+ ro)


La cagna ( Liza ) (Ferreri); Le Moine ( The Monk ) (Kyrou); Le Droit d'aimer (Le Hung); Un Homme est mort ( The Outside Man ) (Deray); Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie ( The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie ) (Buñuel)


France S.A. ( France Société anonyme ) (Corneau)


Dorotheas Rache (Fleischmann); Grandeur nature ( Life Size ) (Berlanga); La Fantôme de la liberté ( The Phantom of Liberty ) (Buñuel); La Chair de l'orchidée (Chereau); La Femme aux bottes rouges (J. Buñuel); Sérieux comme le plaisir (Benayoun) (+ ro)


Leonor (J. Buñuel); Les Oeufs brouillés (Santoni); La Faille (Fleischmann)


Le Gang (Deray)


Julie Pot de Colle (de Broca); Le Diable dans la boîte (Lary); Cet obscur objet de désir ( That Obscure Object of Desire ) (Buñuel)


Photo souvenir (Sechan) (+ ro); Un Papillon sur l'épaule (Deray); Chausette surprise ( Surprise Sock ) (Davy) (+ ro as Fournier) (Davy)


Ils sont grands ces petits ( These Kids Are Grown-Ups ) (Santoni); L'Associé ( The Associate ) (Gainville); Le Tambour ( The Tin Drum ) (Schlöndorff)


Die Falschung ( Circle of Deceit ) (Schlöndorff)


Danton (Wajda); Le Retour de Martin Guerre ( The Return of Martin Guerre ) (Vigne)


Un Amour de Swann ( Swann in Love ) (Schlöndorff); La Tragédie de Carmen ( The Tragedy of Carmen ) (Brook)


Max mon amour ( Max, My Love ) (Oshima); Wolf at the Door (Carlsen)


Les Exploits d'un jeune Don-Juan (Mingozzi); Les Possédés ( The Possessed ) (Wajda)


The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Kaufman); La Nuit bengali (Klotz)


Valmont (Forman); Hard to Be a God (Fleischmann); J'écris dans l'éspace (Etaix); The Mahabharata


Cyrano de Bergerac (Rappeneau); At Play in the Fields of the Lord (Babenco); Milou en mai ( May Fools ) (Malle)


Bouvard et Pecuchet (Verhaeghe—for TV) (+ ro as Narrator)


La Controverse de Valladolid (Verhaeghe—for TV); Le Retour de Casanova ( Casanova's Return ) (Niermans)


Sommersby (Amiel) (based on Le Retour de Martin Guerre ; sc)


Le hussard sur le toit ( The Horseman on the Roof ) (Rappeneau); The Night and the Moment (Tato) (+ ro as The Governor); La Duchesse de Langeais (Verhaeghe—for TV); Associations de bienfaiteurs (Verhaeghe—mini for TV)


Le roi des aulnes ( The Ogre ) (Schlöndorff); Capitaine Cyrano (Failevic)


Une femme explosive (Deray—for TV)


Chinese Box (Wang) (+ co-story)


La Guerre dans le Haut Pays ( War in the Highlands ) (Reusser); Attaville, le veritable histoire des fourmis (Calderon) (commentary only); Clarissa (Deray—for TV)


Salsa (Joyce Buñuel)

Other Films:


Le jardin des supplices (Gion) (ro)


Vive les femmes! (Confortes) (ro as Le sourd-muet)


Eugenie Grandet (Verhaeghe—for TV) (ro as Narrator)


By CARRIÈRE: books—

Lézard , Paris, 1957.

Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (novelization), London, 1959.

L'Alliance , Paris, 1963.

L'Aide-mémoire , Paris, 1968.

With Luis Buñuel, La Moine , Paris, 1971.

Mon Oncle (novelization), London, 1972.

(Translator) Le Clou brûlant , by José Bergamin, Paris, 1972.

With Luis Buñuel, Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (script), in Avant-Scène (Paris), April 1973.

La Pari , Paris, 1973.

(Translator) Harold et Maude , by Colin Higgins, Paris, 1974.

With Daniel Vigne, Le Retour de Martin Guerre , Paris, 1982.

Credo , Paris, 1983.

With Jean Audouze and Michel Cassé, Conversations sur l'invisible , Paris, 1988.

Les mots et la chose , Paris, 1990.

La paix des braves , Paris, 1991.

Le Mahabharata , Paris, 1992.

La Controverse de Valladolid , Paris, 1993.

The Secret Language of Film , New York, 1994.

Simon Le Mage , Paris, 1994.

With H. H., le Dalaï-Lama, La force du buddhisme , Paris, 1995.

With Jean Audouze, Régards sur le visible , Paris, 1996.

By CARRIÈRE: articles—

Cinéma (Paris), February 1965.

Positif (Paris), July 1966.

Jeune Cinéma (Paris), September 1968.

Positif (Paris), March 1969.

Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1970.

Kosmorama (Copenhagen), December 1970.

Cinémonde (Paris), March 1971.

In Les scénaristes au travail , by Christian Salé, Paris, 1981.

Cinéaste (Paris), vol. 13, no. 1, 1983.

"Luis Buñuel," in Cinéma (Paris), September 1983.

Avant-Scène (Paris), February 1984.

Cinématographe (Paris), February 1984.

Technicien du Film (Paris), October/November 1984.

Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1985.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1985.

24 Images (Montreal), Autumn 1986.

Cinéma (Paris), 1 October 1986.

Revue Belge du Cinéma (Brussels), Winter 1986.

CinémAction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 44, June 1987.

Skrien (Amsterdam), no. 164, February/March 1989.

Cinéma (Paris), May 1990.

Interview by Vincent Amiel, in Positif (Paris), October 1993.

Interview by Omid Rohani, in Film International (Tehran), Winter 1993.

Interview by Pierre Beylot and Raphaëlle Moine, in Cinemaction (Paris), March 1996.

Interview with I. Wiese, in Z Filmtidsskrift (Oslo), no. 3, 1996.

On CARRIÈRE: articles—

Focus on Film (London), Spring 1975.

Focus on Film (London), Summer 1975.

Focus on Film (London), Winter 1975–76.

Positif (Paris), December 1977/January 1978.

Film Français (Paris), 3 February 1978.

Télérama (Paris), 13–19 July 1985.

Millard, Kathryn, "Henri and Georgette Go Writing," in Film News (Sydney), April 1995.

* * *

As a screenwriter, Jean-Claude Carrière is still best known for his association with Luis Buñuel, with whom he collaborated regularly from Le Journal d'une femme de chambre onwards. Yet of all his screenplays, only six (or seven if one counts Le Moine , eventually directed by Ado Kyrou) were written for Buñuel. To date, Carrière has produced well over 80 screenplays and teleplays for a long and prestigious list of directors that includes Malle, Schlöndorff, Wajda, Forman, Godard, Oshima, Philip Kaufman, Carlos Saura, Hector Babenco, Wayne Wang, and Pierre Etaix. He also writes for the stage (most notably for Peter Brook's international theater company); he has written novels, and has occasionally acted and directed.

Unlike many prolific scenarists, though, Carrière rarely lapses into lazy or slipshod writing, and the overall standard of his work has remained consistently high. Nor, despite his literary background, does his dialogue feel overwritten or stilted. He himself, while wary of laying down rules and guidelines, maintains that a screenwriter should above all aim for clarity and avoid self-indulgence. "Good dialogue doesn't draw attention to itself," he has observed. "You penetrate it without effort. It's like the sound of a mill to the miller; he only hears it when it stops."

Carrière took up screenwriting at a time when the New Wave filmmakers, reacting against the confined, studio-bound style of the " cinéma de qualité ," were also rejecting the rigid tyranny of the traditional script. Carrière entirely concurred, since he considered the scenario "at once useful and superfluous, simply a stage in the existence and development of a film." A script, he believes, "doesn't stop when it's written, it continues during the shooting and often during the editing." It should be flexible enough to "allow a degree of freedom, not just to the director, but to the actors." At the same time, he expresses reservations about wholly improvisational approaches, which can lead to shapelessness and banality. "I think we have to strike a balance between the script being all-powerful, and it being nonexistent."

The role of improvisation, for Carrière, comes much earlier in the creative process. "The scenario is created when you and the director act it out together, improvising." To achieve this, he tries to establish with his director "a near telepathic communication," which "requires on both sides a receptiveness and a trust which can never be taken for granted. Like all good relationships, it has to be constantly worked at, and shielded against the effects of personal vanity." The scriptwriter must on occasion be prepared to submerge his ego, since ultimately "it's the director's film, and you're there to help him, to facilitate him."

Not that there is anything in the least anonymous about Carrière's work. From his films there emerges a dryly humorous personality, alert to the absurdities of life, profoundly mistrustful of all absolutes and authorities. Having a sharp eye for middle-class ritual, he particularly enjoys prodding at the pretensions of "the French bourgeoisie in all its self-satisfied myopia." Pessimistic but too ironic for tragedy, left-leaning but too skeptical for dogma, Carrière presents a world in which the surreal, the unpremeditated, or simply the spectacle of sheer bloody-minded human resilience, can serve to keep alive an intrigued sense of unexplored potential. "The best quality for a screenwriter," he has remarked, "is an unsatisfied curiosity."

Carrière's unselfishly craftsmanlike approach to screenwriting is exemplified by his work on Cyrano de Bergerac , one of his biggest international hits. Both Carrière and his director, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, were determined, in the teeth of widespread skepticism, to preserve the play's convention of having all the dialogue in rhymed alexandrine couplets. By judiciously pruning Rostand's sometimes clotted verse, adding in a few extra scenes and some fragments of skillful Rostand-pastiche, Carrière produced a script that moved at a smart cinematic pace while staying faithful to the spirit of the original. So faithful, indeed, that even devotees of the play scarcely registered that changes had been made. Carriere also served Rappeneau well in Le hussard sur le toit , which like Cyrano is an energetic, deliciously romantic historical epic. Le hussard is crammed with sweeping, eye-popping imagery; on visual terms, Rappeneau does an especially fine job of contrasting the lushly beautiful French countryside and the deadly dangers confronting his idealistic and honorable Italian aristocrat-soldier-revolutionary hero. Simultaneously, Carriere's smart, literate dialogue propels the story along while keeping the characters lively and engaging.

The subtlety, and the understated ironies, of Carrière's style can on occasion prove self-defeating. In his work with Buñuel, he once explained, "we chose the path of what is probable, but just at the limit, at the borderline of the probable." It is a balance, as he acknowledges, that is "very difficult to maintain," and in some films his writing, perhaps aiming to avoid extravagance, can verge towards over-neatness. What his skilled adaptation of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being gains in clarity and narrative coherence, it loses in moral complexity and the joy of inconsequentiality. And the straight-faced surrealism of Max mon amour , ill-served by Oshima's literal-minded direction, falls sadly flat.

Some critics have suggested that even Buñuel was rendered "respectable" by his association with Carrière, trading the earthiness and carnality of his earlier Spanish-language movies for French urbanity and sophistication—no longer outraging his bourgeois audiences, but titillating them with pleasurable shocks. But it can equally be argued that in Carrière, whom he called "the writer closest to me," Buñuel found the ideal collaborator in the expression of his cruel, insidious vision, his elegantly austere sensuality. And certainly Carrière achieved in his work with Buñuel a mastery of style and structure that he may subsequently have equaled but has yet to surpass. Had he written nothing else, he would rank high among contemporary screenwriters for these six films alone.

—Philip Kemp, updated by Rob Edelman

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