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Jean-Claude Carrière, screenwriter of Cyrano de Bergerac and Belle de Jour, dies aged 89

Celebrated French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who penned some of the most memorable movies of the past half-century, including The Tin Drum and Cyrano de Bergerac, has died at the age of 89. Carrière, best known for his work with Luis Buñuel and Miloš Forman, died in his sleep late Monday at his home in Paris, his daughter, Kiara Carrière, told AFP.

A prolific writer whose career spanned six decades, Carrière created a range of memorable and provocative scenes, including tying a fresh-faced Catherine Deneuve naked to a tree. Belle de Jour was one of the fruits of his 19-year collaboration with subversive Spanish director Luis Buñuel. In 1973, their collaboration The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie won the Oscar for best foreign language film. Carrière had tasted Oscar success before, sharing the best short film award in 1963 for Happy Anniversary with co-writer and co-director Pierre Étaix.

Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour (1967).
Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour (1967). Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

Carrière’s work ranged across cultures, religions and historical periods, from Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), in which Gérard Depardieu gave one of the performances of his career, to the adaptation of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) with Daniel Day-Lewis. Carrière’s 1979 adaptation of Gunter Grass’s novel The Tin Drum, directed by Volker Schlöndorff, won another best foreign language film Oscar as well as the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

He was further Oscar-nominated for The Unbearable Lightness of Being screenplay together with director Philip Kaufman, and won a French César in 1983 for best original screenplay for The Return of Martin Guerre, starring Depardieu. In 2014, Carrière was awarded an honorary Oscar for his life’s work of around 80 screenplays but also essays, fiction, translations and interviews. And one of his final films, At Eternity’s Gate, about the artist Vincent Van Gogh’s final months, was nominated for another, with Carrière determined to prove that the painter did not kill himself.

He also enjoyed frequent appearances in front of the camera.

The Cannes film festival’s former president, Gilles Jacob, led the tributes, saying that Carrière was France’s finest screenwriter ever. “You were the boss,” he added.

Born on 17 September 1931 into a family of wine growers, Carrière’s parents moved near Paris in 1945 to open a cafe. A star pupil, Carrière went on to study at one of France’s elite grandes écoles. By 26, he had written his first novel. He said he enjoyed being at the service of a director and slipping into their way of thinking. “I have no ego,” he once said. He said that “meetings, friendships and life teachers” marked his life, from the Dalai Lama to the great surrealist Buñuel.

One key encounter was with acclaimed British director Peter Brook, with whom he adapted the Sanskrit Hindu epic The Mahabharata for the stage and screen. When it was performed at the Avignon festival in 1985, it ran for nine hours to an astonished crowd. “Watching it, forgetting I was the one who wrote it, was one of the great joys in my life,” Carrière said.

Despite the coronavirus restrictions, a tribute will be held for him in Paris, his daughter said, and he will be buried in his native village in Colombières-sur-Orb in southern France.


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