French cinema icon Claude Berri dies

2008 hit 'Welcome to the Sticks' among his credits

PARIS -- The New Year is starting on a bittersweet note in Gaul as legendary director-producer-actor-writer Claude Berri died Monday. He was 74.

"French cinema is now an orphan," Festival de Cannes president Gilles Jacob told reporters, leading a nation in bidding farewell to an industry giant.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Berri "the most legendary figure of French cinema," and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe referred to him as "a child of Paris who asserted himself as one of the major personalities of French cinema."

Best known for directing such films as "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources," "Germinal" and "Lucie Aubrac," Berri went on to become a powerful producer, with more than 50 films under his belt.

His most recent projects include "Welcome to the Sticks," which broke boxoffice records in France last year, and "The Secret of the Grain," which won the 2008 Cesar for best film.

Berri worked with the creme-de-la-creme of French talent including Gerard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Beart and produced films from such directors as Roman Polanski, Eric Rohmer, Andre Techine and Maurice Pialat. He also served as president of the Cinematheque from 2003-07.

Berri was busy working on the upcoming comedy "Tresor" when he was rushed to Paris' Pitie-Salpetriere hospital with a serious neurological condition over the weekend.

"All those who knew or approached him are in mourning," Sarkozy said.

Public TV group France Televisions has scheduled four nights of programming paying homage to the filmmaker's work.