Cinematographer and Director.
Valence, 29 December 1903.
Newsreel photographer; late 1920s—worked on short films as
photographer and director; from early 1930s—cinematographer on
4 May 1977.
Films as Cinematographer:
De Babord à Tribord (+ d)
Eperon d'or (+ d)
Sous la terre (+ d)
Au fil de l'eau (+ d); Le Billet de mille (Didier)
La Chatelaine du Liban (Epstein); Le Paqueboat Tenacity (Duvivier); L'Or des mers (Epstein)
L'Affaire Coquelet (Gourguet); La Maison dans la dune (Billon); Le Scandale (L'Herbier)
L'Argent (Billon); Les Mutinés de l'Elseneur (Chenal); Les Réprouvés (Severac)
Le Chanteur de minuit (Joannon); La Grande Illusion ( Grand Illusion ) (Renoir); Prison sans barreaux (Moguy)
Café de Paris (Mirande and Lacombe); La fin du jour ( The End of Day ) (Duvivier); Entrée des artistes ( The Curtain Rises ) (M. Allégret); Je chante (Stengel); Légions d'honneur (Gleize); La Piste du sud (Billon)
Le Dernier Tournant (Chenal); Le Duel (Fresnay); Paradise perdu (Gance)
La Nuit merveilleuse (Paulin)
Le Briseur de chaines (Daniel-Norman); La Duchesse de Langeais (de Baroncelli); Paradise en sept nuits (M. Allégret); Romance de Paris (Boyer)
Pontcarral, Colonel d'empire (Delannoy); La Loi du printemps (Daniel-Norman); Mahlia la métisse (Kapps); Secrets (Blanchar)
L'Escalier sans fin (Lacombe); Lucrèce (Joannon); Un Seul Amour (Blanchar); Le Voyageur sans bagages (Anouilh)
Le Bossu (Delannoy); Mademoiselle X (Billon)
Boule de suif ( Angel and Sinner ) (Christian-Jaque); L'Idiot ( The Idiot ) (Lampin); Tant que je vivrai (de Baroncelli)
Il suffit d'une fois (Felix)
Le Beau Voyage (Cuny); Eternel conflit (Lampin); L'Aigle à deux têtes ( The Eagle with Two Heads ) (Cocteau); La Révoltée ( Stolen Affections ) (L'Herbier); Les Jeux sont faits ( The Chips Are Down ) (Delannoy)
D'homme à hommes ( Man to Men ) (Christian-Jaque); Tous les chemins mènent à Rome (Boyer)
Singoalla ( The Wind Is My Lover ) (Christian-Jaque)
La Valse de Paris ( The Paris Waltz ) (Achard); La Ronde (Ophüls); Souvenirs perdus (Christian-Jaque)
Barbe-Bleue ( Bluebeard ) (Christian-Jaque); Olivia (Audry); Fanfan la Tulipe ( Fanfan the Tulip ) (Christian-Jaque)
Adorables créatures ( Adorable Creatures ) (Christian-Jaque); Violettes impériales (Pottier); Destinées ( Daughters of Destiny ) (Christian-Jaque); Lucrèce Borgia ( Sins of the Borgias ) (Christian-Jaque); Le Plaisir (Ophüls) (co)
Madame de . . . ( The Earrings of Madame de . . . ) (Ophüls); Secrets d'alcove (Delannoy)
Madame Du Barry (Christian-Jaque); Nana (Christian-Jaque)
Lola Montès ( Lola ) (Ophüls); Les Espions (Clouzot)
Die Abenteuer des Till Ulenspiegel ( The Adventures of Till Eulenspiegel ) (Philipe and Ivens); Oeil pour oeil ( An Eye for an Eye ) (Cayatte); Rencontre à Paris (Lampin)
Les Carnets du Major Thompson ( The French, They Are a Funny Race ) (P. Sturges); Une Manche et la belle (Verneuil)
Christine (Gaspard-Huit); Montparnasse 19 ( Modigliani of Montparnasse ) (Becker); Maxime (Verneuil)
La Belle et l'empereur (von Ambesser); La Bête a l'affût (Chenal); Le Chemin des écoliers (Boisrond); Pourquoi viens-tu si tard? (Decoin); Vers l'extase (Wheeler)
Les Magiciennes ( Double Deception ) (Friedman); Ma femme est une panthère (Bailly)
Paris Blues (Ritt); Le Jeu de la verité (Hossein); Les Lions sont lâchés (Verneuil)
Le Crime ne paie pas ( Crime Does Not Pay ) (Oury); Le Coeur Battant ( The French Game ) (Doniol-Valcroze); Thérèse Desqueyroux ( Thérèse ) (Franju); Cartouche (de Broca); Coup de bambou (Boyer); Virginie (Boyer)
Shéhérazade ( Scheherazade ) (Gaspard-Huit) (co)
Les Amitiés particulières ( This Special Friendship ) (Delannoy)
Les Fêtes galantes (Clair)
Sept fois femme ( Woman Times Seven ) (De Sica); Más allá de las montañas ( The Desperate Ones ; Beyond the Mountains ) (Ramati)
Les Oiseaux vont mourir au Perou ( Birds in Peru ) (Gary)
La Voie lactée ( The Milky Way ) (Buñuel)
Le Bal du Comte d'Orgel (M. Allégret)
Pas folle la guepe (Delannoy)
On MATRAS: articles—
Cinéma (Paris), December 1972.
Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.
Le Technicien du Film (Paris), May-June 1977.
Film Français (Paris), 10 June 1977.
Cinéma (Paris), August-September 1977.
Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1989.
* * *
At the beginning of his career, Christian Matras quickly established a reputation as a solid technician and an expert in creating decorative and psychological ambiences which testify to his range of taste. During his career, he adapted to developing techniques, as well as to the demands of varied directors. In more than 80 films, he worked with the biggest names in French cinema: Jean Renoir, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Becker and, most significantly, Max Ophüls.
Using his early training as a newsreel photographer, Matras successfully applied the technique of plain observation to feature films in the '30s. His documentary style was put to good use in Renoir's La Grande Illusion , a study of war. Renoir chose to tell his story of the dry rot of inaction, not on the battlefield, but behind the lines in a prison camp. It is a story of complex themes often revealed through camera movements.
This technique would typify Matras' work prior to World War II. During this period, it was careful, painstakingly detailed, and intelligent, almost to the point of coldness. After World War II, his documentary style gave way to dazzling, flowing camera movements. Matras adapted well to color filming; his Barbe Bleu was considered the first successful French film in color.
However, it is his work with Max Ophüls for which Matras is best known. Ophüls' films demanded complex camera work—long elaborate takes with flowing camera movements. Brilliant camera use became the director's trademark; without the fluid, impressionistic skill of Matras, Ophüls would not be as highly regarded as he is. In La Ronde , Matras' first collaboration with Ophüls, Matras used sweeping camera work that would develop into the camera choreography used in Lola Montes . This film was the most expensive European production ever made at that time, and one of the first to use CinemaScope. Ophüls disliked CinemaScope, which he felt made proportions crushingly flat. He altered perspectives by affixing black velvet maskings to the camera.
The filming of Lola Montes is the epitome of Matras' craftsmanship and technique. For example, in the circus scenes, Ophüls was more interested in the audience than the main action. For this, Matras uses 360 degree camera shots. Some scenes were conceived and written to constitute dynamic walkthroughs, and the camera stays with the characters, persistent and unshakeable as it stalks and prowls with them. Matras' virtuoso camera movement makes the landscape and architecture seem to move.
The Earrings of Madame. . . . also contained fabulous photography. The story would be tedious if not for Matras' fluid camera, which juxtaposes intimate and dramatic shots to reveal theme and character. Lean camera work balances against the lush setting in which events unfold. Ophüls relied on continuous flow as opposed to collisions between shots for his storytelling, and long tracks are used not only to convey action, but to convey shifts of mood, the evolution of time, and plot development. At the heart of the film is the ball scene. The couple dances round and round through one elegant ballroom after another, and the camera stays with them recording their changing feelings as the mood of frivolity recedes. A long continuous take follows the servant as he moves from light to light, extinguishing each until he finally blankets the scene in darkness when he covers the harp.
Matras' last collaboration with Ophüls was Le Plaisir made in 1955. Matras continued to work in films until the 1970s, although this later work would not attract the same critical attention as his films with Ophüls.