Jean-Claude Carriere, 'Belle de Jour,' 'Tin Drum' Screenwriter, Dies at 89

Honoree Jean-Claude Carrière - Getty - H 2020
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Jean-Claude Carrière

The Frenchman also wrote 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being,' 'The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie' and 'Diary of a Chambermaid' and received an honorary Oscar.

Jean-Claude Carrière, the prolific French screenwriter who collaborated with some of the greatest art house auteurs of his time, has died. He was 89.

Carrière died Monday evening of natural causes at his home in Paris, his daughter Kiara Carrière told the news service AFP.

Carrière won a competitive Oscar in 1963 for his work with countryman Pierre Étaix on a live-action short film, then received an honorary Academy Award at the Governors Awards in 2014.

He also was Oscar-nominated for his screenplays for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), both directed and co-written by Spaniard Luis Buñuel, and for The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), shared with American helmer Philip Kaufman.

Carrière worked with other world-renowned filmmakers as well, including Milos Forman, Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, Michael Haneke, Peter Brook, Volker Schlöndorff and Andrzej Wajda.

"They all taught me something, each of them, and they're always present, even today, even in this moment," he said after Kaufman presented him with his honorary Oscar. "When I'm working, I hear their voices in my head.

"Very often screenwriters are forgotten or ignored. They are like shadows passing through the history of cinema. Their names do not appear in reviews, very seldom. But still, they are filmmakers. That's why tonight I'd like to share this priceless statue with all my colleagues, the ones I know, the ones I don't know, from all over the world."

With more than 150 screen credits to his name, not to mention scores of plays, books, telefilms and other adaptations, Carrière was a fixture of modern cinema both in France and the rest of Europe. His scripts spanned many genres and countries, from his collaborations with Buñuel on several late masterpieces to penning such French hits as Jean Paul Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), to movies like Jonathan Glazer's surreal thriller Birth (2004), starring Nicole Kidman.

Carrière, who taught screenwriting at the prestigious Parisian school La FEMIS, which he helped found in 1986, remained one of France’s most lauded scribes throughout his 60-plus year career. He was nominated for four Césars, winning with Daniel Vigne in 1983 for the medieval crime drama The Return of Martin Guerre.

With his first screen credit dating to 1961, Carrière worked steadily into his 80s. For 2018 releases, he penned Julien Schnabel’s Vincent van Gogh biopic At Eternity’s Gate, starring Willem Dafoe, and Louis Garrel’s romantic thriller A Faithful Man (2018).

More recently, he wrote The Salt of Tears (2020), directed by Philippe Garrel, Louis' father.

Revisiting his long career in a 2019 interview with the French trade magazine Le Quotidien du cinéma, Carrière explained why he chose screenwriting as his lifelong endeavor:

"I was very rapidly aware, at the age of 21, of having been born in the first century to have invented several new forms of writing: cinema, radio, television and comic books," he said. "Each new medium demands a new type of writing, and I decided to pursue them throughout my life."

Born on Sept. 17, 1931, Carrière was raised in the southwestern French town of Colombières-sur-Orb by a family of winegrowers who would move to the working-class suburbs of Paris when he was 14.

After studying literature and history, he published his first novel, Lézard, in 1957. The book got him work writing novelizations for the great French comic auteur Jacques Tati, including adaptations of his hit movies Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle.

Carrière then collaborated with Tati’s first assistant, Étaix, on the 1961 short films Rupture and Heureux anniversaire, on which he was credited as co-director (he won an Oscar for the latter). He went on to co-write Étaix features The Suitor (1962), Yoyo (1965) and Le Grand Amour (1969).

In 1963, Carrière was hired by Buñuel to co-write an adaptation of Octave Mirbeau’s Diary of a Chambermaid, starring Jeanne Moreau and released the following year. They continued to work together on five features during the next decade, including the classics Belle de Jour (1967) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).

"The screenplays were very precise but without any technical directions," Carrière told L'Express in 2011. "Buñuel preferred to save the camera movements for the set — he was an excellent cameraman and operator. Generally, we would write two drafts for each film, sometimes three."

Carrière also served as the ghostwriter on Buñuel’s autobiography My Last Sigh, which was first published in Spanish in 1982, a year before the filmmaker's death.

Another major Carrière collaborator was Czech director Forman, for whom he penned three screenplays: the 1971 comedy Taking Off, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes; the 1989 costume drama Valmont, starring Colin Firth and Annette Bening; and Forman’s final major feature, Goya’s Ghosts, released in 2006.

For German director Schlöndorff, Carrière wrote the 1979 adaptation of Günter Grass’ novel The Tin Drum, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes (splitting the prize with Apocalypse Now) and the foreign-language Oscar, as well as the 1984 Marcel Proust adaptation Swann in Love. (He’s also credited with four other writers on Schlöndorff’s 1981 war drama Circle of Deceit.)

In 1980, Carrière wrote the script to Godard’s Every Man for Himself, which was considered a comeback for the New Wave auteur. He penned Godard’s Passion, (1982), starring Isabelle Huppert and Hanna Schygulla, but remained uncredited.

Other major works from Carrière’s vast filmography included Jacques Deray’s The Swimming Pool (1969), starring Alain Delon and Romy Schneider; Wajda’s Reign of Terror epic Danton (1983), starring Gérard Depardieu; Kaufman’s erotic drama The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche; and Haneke’s 2009 Palme d’or winner The White Ribbon, for which he was credited as script consultant.

Carrière also maintained a long collaboration with Paris-based British theater director Brook, for whom he adapted Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens and The Tempest as well as the nine-hour Hindu poem The Mahabharata, which took years to translate. The pair also co-wrote Swann in Love.

Survivors include his wife, Nahal, and daughters Iris and Kiara.

In one of his final interviews, Carrière summed up his profession.

"You work to do a good job, thinking of who will see it and hoping they’ll like it. Throughout my career I’ve mostly met good, conscientious people who knew they were speaking to an audience over which they had a certain influence," he said. "Nowadays, people only think of success — will it be a hit or not? In general, when you work to erect your own statue, it winds up breaking."