Legendary French Film Critic Jean Douchet Dies at 90

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Jean Douchet

He was part of the New Wave generation and played small roles in films by François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette.

Jean Douchet, the legendary film critic, bon vivant and one of the last remaining survivors of the French New Wave, died Thursday in Paris. He was 90.

Co-editor-in-chief, along with Eric Rohmer, of Cahiers du cinéma during its heyday in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Douchet was one of the core members, alongside critics-turned-filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette, of a generation that would change both French cinema and movies in general.

Unlike his contemporaries, Douchet didn’t become a director himself, although he did make a short film, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, as part of the New Wave omnibus project Six in Paris (Paris vu par), released in 1965. He also made cameo appearances in several movies of the epoch, playing the lover of Antoine Doinel’s mother in Truffaut’s The 400 Blows; a journalist in Godard’s Breathless; a bit role in Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating; and a café goer in Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore.

Although Douchet contributed many articles to Cahiers du cinéma early on his career, he more or less stopped publishing in the mid-'60s and spent the remainder of his life hosting movie clubs in Paris and the rest of France. His talks, marked by an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema history and his brilliant analyses of classic movies, were highly popular and often sold out, inspiring generations of younger critics and filmmakers. Directors like Arnaud Desplechin (Kings & Queen) and Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men) and producer Saïd Ben Saïd (Elle) all claim Douchet as one of their mentors.

Born in 1929 in the northern city of Arras, Douchet arrived in Paris in the late ‘40s and soon joined the circle of budding critics and directors that would constitute the French New Wave. He wrote and edited for Cahiers du Cinéma until 1963, after which he began teaching and lecturing, including at the prestigious IDHEC film school in Paris.

His retrospectives of masters like John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Wells and Kenji Mizoguchi and modern directors like Brian de Palma and Michael Mann were often presented under the title “L’art d’aimer”— Douchet famously said that “criticism is the art of loving” — which is also the title of a 2003 collection of his writings.

Douchet’s other work was collected in the books Hitchcock (2003), La Dvdeotheque de Jean Douchet (2006) and the interview book L’homme cinéma (2014). He also published the hardcover book French New Wave (1998) about the generation he helped to create.

The feature-length French documentaries Jean Douchet ou l’art d’aimer (2011) and Jean Douchet: Restless Child (2017) both explore Douchet’s life and work in detail.