Volker Schlöndorff pays tribute to Jean-Claude Carrière

Legendary screenwriter adapted novels for Schlöndorff

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Volker Schlöndorff on Jean-Claude Carrière: “Early Sixties, Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Delphine Seyrig, those were the stars in our sky, when we first met, about 55 years ago, Jean-Claude 30, me 23, not working together but working on the same picture: Viva Maria!”
Volker Schlöndorff on Jean-Claude Carrière: “Early Sixties, Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Delphine Seyrig, those were the stars in our sky, when we first met, about 55 years ago, Jean-Claude 30, me 23, not working together but working on the same picture: Viva Maria!” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Jean-Claude Carrière, who died on February 8 at the age of 89, had three films in the works that he co-wrote, Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari’s Land Of Dreams, Louis Garrel’s The Crusade, and José Luis López-Linares’ documentary Le Mystère Goya. In 2018, at the New York Film Festival press conference for Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity's Gate, starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, Carrière said: “There is a love story between painting and movies, because the painting is still and doesn't move. And movies move. It's a love story that goes back to the prehistoric caves when the first painters tried to give the illusion of movement. By a series of heads of deer or tigers running one after the other. One of the attempts of many filmmakers is, they try to reach this sort of emotion inside the deer body.”

Volker Schlöndorff: “Jean-Claude Carrière is theatre man, a playwright, his collaboration with Peter Brook is legend. Aesope, The Mahabarata. The Man Who … ”
Volker Schlöndorff: “Jean-Claude Carrière is theatre man, a playwright, his collaboration with Peter Brook is legend. Aesope, The Mahabarata. The Man Who … ” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Jean-Claude Carrière co-wrote the adaptation of Günter Grass's novel for Volker Schlöndorff’s Oscar and Cannes Palme d'Or-winning film The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel). He also co-wrote the adaptation of Michel Tournier’s novel for Volker’s The Ogre (Der Unhold), the adaptation of Marcel Proust’s Swann In Love (Un Amour De Swann), and the adaptation of Nicolas Born’s novel for Circle Of Deceit (Die Fälschung).

Here is Volker Schlöndorff’s remembrance in honour of Jean-Claude Carrière:

“Early Sixties, Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Delphine Seyrig, those were the stars in our sky, when we first met, about 55 years ago, Jean-Claude 30, me 23, not working together but working on the same picture: Viva Maria! Since we shot in Mexico and Jean-Claude Carrière started working with Buñuel on Belle De Jour it was only natural that he put into Louis Malle’s film too, elements of anarchy and surrealism. Not exactly guaranties for commercial success.

“But there are exceptions: The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object Of Desire are the best proof: nobody could or would have dared to combine extremely conventional plotlines with such wild surrealist ideas, and even less to cast the same character with two different actresses. Such Jean-Claude Carrière managed this winning combination, the unique achievement: to be aesthetic avant-garde and mainstream cinema at the same time.

“Milos Forman was the next director who teamed up with him, taking him to America for Taking Off and working with him until Goya’s Ghosts. 15 years into our friendship we wrote the very German Tin Drum - in French. For our late friend and master Andrzej Wajda he created a very Polish Danton with Gerard Depardieu. But Jean-Claude can do straight box office, as well. La Piscine is a classic in his own right, the sheer physical attraction of Romy Schneider and Alain Delon still steaming after all those years.

Jean-Claude Carrière at the New York Film Festival press conference for Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate in 2018
Jean-Claude Carrière at the New York Film Festival press conference for Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate in 2018 Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

“The best time any director could have is working with Jean Claude, the joy and excitement every morning when going to meet him, certain that you would get a lot done, have fun and leave him, if not a better man, a man feeling better. More energetic. All worries left behind. Where is a problem? - he would ask. There is no problem: just do it. Do not doubt, trust your imagination. If an idea, an image, a line came into his mind, it means it’s good enough to put it on paper: do not question it, do not explain, do not give motivations. At most test your idea by making a drawing. He is very good at it. A true cartoon designer. He was gagman with Tati! And this technique of free association may be the secret of his fast and prolific writing. Ecriture automatique - almost.

“Shakespeare comes to mind. Jean-Claude Carrière is theatre man, a playwright, his collaboration with Peter Brook is legend. Aesope, The Mahabarata. The Man Who … Science and making it comprehensible, another of his astounding qualities: let me just mention some of his books, on quantum physics, the Dalai Lama, the Inquisition, anything Spanish he was fluent in, Buddhism, unlike most French not only history, but geography too, India, Mexico and Iran, on money and the financial market: Nothing is too vast to embrace, nothing too contrary, too opposite to not maybe be useful.

“My favourite is Le Vin Bourru - his childhood told tool by tool, all the instruments peasants and craftsmen used to have, forever fascinating for the son of a small winegrower, in the vineyards of South-western France. And with the same slow and assured pace as his ancestors Jean-Claude has been ploughing the fields of cinema for almost 70 years. The harvest was always good, sometimes outstanding, with a number of masterpieces surviving him for as long as cinema will survive, and if it will survive (not sure, he would say), it will be because of films he wrote.” - Volker Schlöndorff

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