Paris, 8 September 1928.
Attended the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques,
1948–58—assistant art director to the directors Jean Andre,
Max Douy, and Alexandre Trauner; 1958–59—co-art director
with Bernard Evein.
César award for
Swann in Love
Le Rouge et le noir (Autant-Lara)
Land of the Pharaohs (Hawks); Marguerite de la nuit (Autant-Lara); Les Mauvaises Rencontres
Eléna et les hommes ( Paris Does Strange Things ) (Renoir); La Traversée de Paris ; He Who Must Die ; Sait-on jamais
The Vikings (Fleischer); En cas de malheur ( Love Is My Profession ) (Autant-Lara)
V. Proudech ( Liberté surveillef ) (Vloek and Aisner)
Les Amants ( The Lovers ) (Malle) (co)
A Double Tour ( Web of Passion ; Leda ) (Chabrol) (co); Les Cousins (Chabrol) (co); La Sentence (Valère) (co)
La Proie pour l'ombre ( Shadow of Adultery ) (Astruc); Les Jeux d'amour ( Suzanne et les roses ; Playing at Love ) (de Broca) (co); Le Farceur ( The Joker ) (de Broca); Les Scélérats ( Torment ) (Hossein) (co)
L'Année dernière à Marienbad ( Last Year at Marienbad ) (Resnais); Vu de Pont ( View from the Bridge ) (Lumet); La Morte-Saison des amours ( The Season for Love ) (Kast); L'Education sentimentale (Astruc); La Gamberge (Carbonnaux); Le Petit Garcon de l'ascenseur (Granier-Deferre); Germinal (Carné)
Landru ( Bluebeard ) (Chabrol); Du mouron pour les petits oiseaux (Carné)
Muriel, ou le temps d'un retour ( Muriel ) (Resnais); La Bonne Soupe ( How to Make a French Dish ) (Thomas); Les Aventures de Salavin (Granier-Deferre); La Confession de minuit (Granier-Deferre)
La Fabuleuse Aventure de Marco Polo ( Marco the Magnificent ) (de la Patellière, Howard, and Christian-Jaque); L'Echivoier de dieu (de la Patellière)
What's New, Pussycat? (Donner); La Vie de château ( A Matter of Resistance ) (Rappeneau); La Metamorphose des cloportes (Granier-Deferre)
La Guerre est finie ( The War Is Over ; Adventures in History ) (Resnais); Mademoiselle ( Un, deux, trois, quatre! ) (Richardson); Le Voleur (Malle); Caroline Cherie (Aurel)
Tante Zita (Enrico)
La Prisonnière (Clouzot); Ho! (Enrico)
Le Clan des siciliens (Verneuil); La Horse (Granier-Deferre)
Le Chat (Granier-Deferre)
La Veuve Coudere (Granier-Deferre); Le Casse ( The Burglars ) (Verneuil)
Le Fils (Granier-Deferre)
Le Train (Granier-Deferre); Le Serpent ( The Serpent ) (Verneuil)
French Connection II (Frankenheimer); La Cage (Granier-Deferre)
Mon oncle d'Amerique ( My American Uncle ) (Resnais)
La Vie est un roman ( Life Is a Bed of Roses ) (Resnais)
Swann in Love ( Un Amour de Swann ) (Schlöndörff); Les Morfalous (Verneuil); L?Amour à mort (Resnais); Le Jumeau (Robert)
Les Exploits d'un jeune Don Juan (Mingozzi)
L'Autrichienne (Granier-Deferre); I Want to Go Home ( Je veux rentrer à la maison ) (Resnais)
Archipelago (Granier-Deferre); La Voix ( The Voice ) (Granier-Deferre)
Smoking/No Smoking (Resnais)
On connaît la chanson ( Same Old Song ) (Resnais)
Cinématographe (Paris), no. 88, April 1983.
Positif (Paris), no. 307, September 1986.
Positif (Paris), no. 329–330, July-August 1988.
Lumière du Cinéma (Paris), no. 1, February 1977.
Film Français (Paris), no. 1710, February 1978.
Film Français (Paris), no. 2131, 6 March 1987.
Positif (Paris), January 1994.
Filmbulletin (Winterthur), vol. 36, no. 6, 1994.
Positif (Paris), December 1995.
* * *
The museum of the Cinématheque Française in Paris displays two models in its foyer as examples of contemporary film decor. That by Bernard Evein from Jacques Demy's 1988 musical Trois places pour le 26 is a diaphanous abstraction of wires and coloured panels, typical of a designer who is less an architect than a painter. By contrast, Jacques Saulnier's design for Mon oncle d'Amerique , one of many Alain Resnais films he designed, is solid as a brick, a meticulous rendering of a bourgeois French apartment of the 1970s, right down to the Dubuffet art and designer rugs.
The contrast reveals the differences in style between two men who dominated French film design in the period following the Nouvelle Vague . Saulnier and Evein (like Resnais) graduated from the highly theoretical Institut des Haute Etudes Cinématographiques. Saulnier however went on to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, giving his talent a formal gloss it never lost, and then entered movies as assistant to Max Douy and Alexandre Trauner. Despite the striking variation in their styles, between 1958 and 1960 Saulnier and Evein worked as a team. The château of Louis Malle's Les Amants and the Paris interiors of Chabrol's Les Cousins seem mostly Saulnier's work, but Chabrol's A double tour , their first film in colour, includes a Japanese-style pavilion for Antonella Lualdi that may be their first true collaboration.
The team broke up with L'Année dernière à Marienbad , for which Evein takes the costume credit and Saulnier that for set design. Saulnier meticulously copied 18th-century decorated plaster ceilings and mirrored interiors for the film so that the hotel in some un-named resort is perfectly integrated with the raked and barbered gardens where Resnais shot his exteriors. Some found the effect claustrophobic but without this strict formal consistency Marienbad is unlikely to have achieved its subsequent international success. Resnais and Saulnier had created a world which fitted only these characters and this story.
Established now as a master of authentic design, Saulnier did the New York slum sets for Sidney Lumet's European production of Arthur Miller's View from the Bridge , then Astruc's adaptation of L'Education Sentimentale . Claude Chabrol's sinister Landru on the other hand showed the humour that was to figure occasionally in Saulnier's work during the 1970s. In telling the story of France's mass murderer of women during the First World War, Chabrol aimed for an almost playful artificiality, interwoven with reminders ( via newsreel footage) of the trench war taking place just over the horizon. Saulnier responded with gaudy interiors in dense purples, greens and roses (colours Evein used around the same time in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg , an echo of their shared history). He interspersed these with reminders of Landru's trade, notably in the laboratory-like kitchen with its bare green/white walls, big stove, and coal-scuttles brimming in anticipation of the next victim. When Chabrol wanted crowd and railway station scenes beyond the scope of the budget, Saulnier also fabricated a train from puffs of smoke and suggested a busy street with a partly curtained shop window outside which a procession of ladies' hats circulated on a conveyor belt.
This subversive contrast between formal perfection and wit runs through Saulnier's career. He continued his collaboration with Resnais on films as stylistically various as Muriel, La Guerre est finie , the discreet but perfectly realised art deco Stavisky , the studiedly artificial Providence with its stiff interiors and blatant use of painted backdrops, La Vie est un roman , which amusingly integrated comic book panels into the action, Mon oncle d'Amerique , and Resnais' adaptations of two plays by British writer Alan Ayckbourn, Smoking and No Smoking. At the same time, he created rowdy Edwardian interiors for Malle's Le Voleur and plunged into art nouveau and whorehouse baroque for the Peter O'Toole/Peter Sellers comedy What's New Pussycat? The film was a nightmare for Saulnier, with rival egos employing the decor as a battlefield, private apartments and houses being desperately co-opted, and sets rebuilt overnight when, for instance, a distraught Paula Prentiss rejected a bathroom design because she could not stand to look at herself; it thus became the world's only bathroom without mirrors. Even so, Saulnier's use of his favourite hot purples, reds, and yellows created an effect of opulence and Parisian playfulness which producers would struggle for the next decade to match.
Saulnier's meticulousness has created problems for directors and especially cameramen. "Saulnier frequently uses sombre colours," Leon Barsacq says, "which some cameramen have been reluctant to photograph because of lighting difficulties." Such reservations did not stop producers from hiring Saulnier to bring a reassuring realism and "Hollywood Look" to such films as Le Clan des siciliens , Le Chat , The Burglars , The Serpent , and French Connection II . In them, Barsacq has said admiringly, "his rooms, ingeniously adjusted in relation to one another, are of normal dimensions, but he always manages to give them an airiness by using openings and passages." These CinemaScope thrillers set in Antibes villas and Paris apartments, interspersed with parking garages and airport lounges, sit oddly with Saulnier's work for Resnais, though there is a consistency in their realistic effect. Like his teacher Trauner, Saulnier can make an interior created under totally theatrical constraints appear as if it has been in place for centuries.