Final word from a maestro of letters

Multi-faceted career of Cyrano screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière

by Richard Mowe

One of Jean-Claude Carrière’s most celebrated adaptations - Cyrano de Bergerac, directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau and starring Gérard Depardieu.
One of Jean-Claude Carrière’s most celebrated adaptations - Cyrano de Bergerac, directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau and starring Gérard Depardieu. Photo: UniFrance
One of France’s most celebrated and internationally renowned screenwriters Jean-Claude Carrière has died at the age of 89 after a career which saw his named attached to more than 80 films and some 30 novels and theatre productions.

Among his most famous collaborations was working with director Jean-Paul Rappeneau on the adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac with Gérard Depardieu; with Luis Buñuel on the adaptation of Octave Mirabeau’s 1900 novel Diary Of A Chambermaid with Jeanne Moreau, and with Philip Kaufman on Czech writer Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. His partnership with Buñuel lasted almost two decades until the director’s death in 1983 and memorably embraced Belle De Jour with Catherine Deneuve and The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeosie for which he and Buñuel won an Oscar in 1972.

Carrière, who was born into a family of wine growers in the Herault region, was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2015. His parents moves from the countryside to Paris in 1945 to open a cafe. Carrièrre’s studies involved a stint at one of France’s Grande Ecoles.

Other directors with whom he collaborated included Jacques Deray (Borsalino and La Piscine, both starring Alain Delon); Daniel Vigne for The Return Of Martin Guerre (winner of the 1983 César for best screenplay); Jean-Luc Godard for Slow Motion (Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie)) and Volker Schlondorf for The Tin Drum, after the novel by Gunter Grass, winner of an Oscar as well as a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Jean-Claude Carrière: 'I have no ego…'
Jean-Claude Carrière: 'I have no ego…' Photo: UniFrance

He worked on several occasions with director Philippe Garrel, most recently on The Salt Of Tears (Le Sel des Larmes) which was released last year. He also collaborated with Garrel’s son Louis on his first feature A Faithful Man and his second film as a director The Crusade (La Croisade) which was made last year. Garrel jr found his co-writer to be “very dry and rough and tough."

Carrière was born in 1931 in Colombières sur Orbe, a village in the south of France, where his daughter Kiara indicated he will be buried after a tribute to him in Paris. He grew up during the Second World War War then served in the Algerian War. He did not start his literary career in earnest until he was 30 although by 26 he had written his first novel. HIs way into cinema resulted from a meeting with Pierre Etaix who persuaded him to work on some of shorts and features.

He spread his talents across literature, screenwriting as well as making frequent appearances as an actor in front of the camera. For his work he travelled all over the world – 47 times to India alone. Carrière described himself as neither French, nor European, but trilingual: French, English and Spanish.

Another of his enduring and notable partnerships was with British theatre director Peter Brook, in particular on the Sanskrit Hindu epic The Mahabharata for the stage and screen.

Carrière was modest to a fault. “I have no ego,” he once suggested. He relished being at the service of a director and allowing himself to “slip into their way of thinking.”

  • Read what Louis Garrel and Jean-Claude Carrière said about working together on A Faithful Man here

  • Read Carrière on paintings, movement and At Eternity's Gate

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