WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2008-06 > 1214176122
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] DELANNOY: Jean Delannoy 2008
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2008 00:08:42 +0100
Last Updated: 2:03AM BST 21/06/2008
Film-maker whose craftsmanship and good taste earned him the enmity of the
Young Turks of the Nouvelle Vague.
Jean Delannoy, who died on Wednesday aged 100, was one of the last survivors
of that generation of film-makers vilified by the new wave in the late 1950s
as the cinma de papa.
They were schooled in a tradition of craftsmanship, literary affiliations
and good taste - precisely the qualities despised by new young directors
such as Franois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol, who swept
through the French film industry with bold new experiments like Les Quatre
Cents Coups and A Bout de Souffle.
In 1957 Truffaut said of one of Delannoy's films (Chiens Perdus sans
Collier, a thriller with Jean Gabin) that he had seen it three times so as
to learn exactly what not to do.
This was a harsh verdict from a man who himself, in later life, allowed
innovation to slide into sentimentality. But it is incontestable that
Delannoy, who had made such an impact with works such as L'Eternel Retour
(1943) and Dieu a Besoin des Hommes (1950), later became a journeyman
film-maker with potboilers such as the 1956 remake of The Hunchback of Notre
Dame, with Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida.
Jean Delannoy was born on June 12 1908 at Noisy-le-Sec near Paris to a civil
servant and a kindergarten teacher of Huguenot stock. Ancestors at times of
religious persecution had been among the first to seek refuge in the New
World. As a Protestant, Delannoy was unusual in a predominantly Catholic
country and this had a direct bearing on the authenticity of his own film La
Symphonie Pastorale (1946).
Delannoy's sister Henriette had been a screen actress in the silent era, but
initially he had no thought of following her into the film industry. As a
student at the Lyce Montaigne and the Lyce Louis-le-Grand in Paris, he
married young and fed the family with temporary jobs as a bank clerk,
journalist and set designer.
During military service, he was attached to a film unit and, on demob,
successfully applied for work as an editor at Paramount's French studios in
St Maurice. In this capacity, he worked on some 40 films and eventually got
a chance to direct at the age of 26, progressing from shorts to feature
films in 1935.
As a director, Delannoy deliberately rejected specialisation in style and
content. "I have never," he said, "attempted, even after the greatest
success, to take the same path twice. The diversity of subjects I have
handled reflects very exactly the diversity of my preoccupations and
Delannoy came to the fore as a film-maker on the eve of the Nazi Occupation.
This had an immediate adverse consequence for his film about Macao (1939),
starring Sessue Hayakawa and Erich Von Stroheim. By the time it was ready
for release, the Nazis objected strongly to the presence of the anti-Nazi
Von Stroheim and demanded a remake of his scenes. They were reshot with
Pierre Renoir and released in that form in 1942. In 1945, after the war,
Stroheim's contribution was reinstated.
L'Eternel Retour, filmed in 1943 from a script by Jean Cocteau, echoed the
story of Tristan and Isolde. It was one of the few films made under the
Occupation that, in some quarters, still enjoys a high reputation. Some,
however, find the tone of defeatism as repugnant as in Marcel Carn's Les
Visiteurs du Soir.
Much more successful was La Symphonie Pastorale, made after the war in 1946,
which won the top prize at the first post-war Cannes Film Festival. Based on
the work by Andr Gide, it was the story of a Protestant pastor torn between
his duty to care for a blind waif, one of his parishioners, and his very
different instincts as a man.
Les Jeux Sont Faits (1947), from a scenario by Jean-Paul Sartre, was a fable
set in limbo between two strangers who have died and are given a 24-hour
respite from death to test their new-found love. Many people today, however,
find the notion precious and pretentious.
But Dieu a Besoin des Hommes (1950) is widely considered Delannoy's most
accomplished film. Set in the 19th century on a bleak island off the Breton
coast, it tackles themes that call into question the Church's spiritual
authority. When the islanders engineer shipwrecks in order to plunder the
wreckage, the local minister quits in disgust, leaving the congregation
without access to grace. To fill the void, the sacristan (Pierre Fresnay)
assumes the role of the priest because, he believes, common-or-garden
sinners need spiritual guidelines as much as the virtuous. This action, of
course, was unacceptable to the Church.
Awarded the grand prix at the Venice Film Festival, the film was also
saluted by the Catholic Church for its compassion, despite appearing to
condone heretical practices. Though a powerful work, with wonderfully
brooding images of the island location, it was an achievement Delannoy was
unable to match, let alone surpass.
Though the 1956 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was widely released
on the strength of its stellar cast, none of his other pictures, of which
there were many, crossed the Channel. They were mostly thrillers, costume
dramas and melodramas. However, Jean Cocteau, who had furnished the script
for L'Eternel Retour, also wrote an adaptation of La Princesse de Clves,
Madame de Lafayette's 1678 work about ill-fated lovers at the French court
that became Delannoy's last real success. To some extent, with its tale of
thwarted lovers, it echoed the Tristan and Isolde theme of L'Eternel Retour.
In later years, Delannoy shifted to television, with a six-part series based
on Manon Lescaut and an account of the accession of Napoleon III in Le Coup
du 2 Dcembre.
Television, he said, was not so very different from cinema. The way of
telling a story is the same but you simply have a much larger audience. Not,
perhaps, an observation with which David Lean would have concurred.
Delannoy was chairman of the Institut des Hautes tudes Cinmatographique
and in 1966 was awarded an honorary Csar, effectively a lifetime
Delannoy married first in 1927 and was divorced 11 years later. He married,
secondly, in 1938, Juliette Geneste, by whom he had a daughter, who is also
married to a film director.
|[W-OBITS] DELANNOY: Jean Delannoy 2008 by "Peter McCrae" <>|