Eric Rohmer, pivotal member of France’s New Wave film movement that changed the history of the art form, has died aged 89, leaving behind an immense yet subtle and sensitive body of work.
Rohmer, died in Paris, said Les Films du Losange, the production company he co-founded. The cause of death was not immediately given.
An intensely private and modest man, Rohmer was also a highly influential figure in postwar cinema, first for his work as a film critic, then throughout his long career as a director.
The director – internationally known for his films’ long, philosophical conversations – continued to work until recently. His latest film, the 17th-century costume tale “Les amours d’Astree et de Celadon (Romance of Astree and Celadon), appeared in 2007.
In 2001, Rohmer was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his body of work – dozens of films made over a five-decade career.
Invariably intimate, but never minimalist, his films were meticulous explorations of moral conundrums, shot in a naturalistic manner without use of a soundtrack.
Intrinsically French and full of bright, often improvised dialogue, Rohmer’s films were frequently compared to the work of the 18th century dramatist Marivaux.
He described his style of cinema as one of “thoughts rather than actions as, dealing “less with what people do than what is going on in their minds while they are doing it.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a statement reacting to Rohmer’s death, said the filmmaker was a “great auteur who will continue to speak to us and inspire us for years to come.
“Classic and romantic, wise and iconoclast, light and serious, sentimental and moralist, he created the ‘Rohmer’ style, which will outlive him, Sarkozy said.
“He was behind the Cahiers du Cinema (magazine) and the adventure of the ‘New Wave’, but his films are still singular, unique. They were about literature, painting, theatre and music, the statement added.
Six of Rohmer’s films comprised an influential cycle of “moral tales that addressed the thorny questions of modern love: whether to compromise your beliefs in the face of passion, for example, or how to maintain a sense of individual freedom in a relationship.
In 1969’s “Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night at Maud’s), a churchgoing young engineer played by Jean-Louis Trintignant must choose between a seductive divorcee and a woman who meets his ideals. The film’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.
In 1970’s “Le Genou de Claire (Claire’s Knee), a diplomat is overwhelmed by his desire to stroke the knee of a teenage girl he meets.
Rohmer set up his own production company, Les Films du Losange, and made 24 feature films over a 50-year career.
Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand called Rohmer “one of France’s greatest film makers who “invented a cinematographic language that draws (its strength) from the subtleties of the French language. His “very personal, very original movies, Mitterrand added, appealed to cinephiles and ordinary filmgoers alike.
Serge Toubiana – who heads the Cinematheque, France’s famous film preservation society – said Rohmer worked closely with his crews and described his creative process as a collaborative effort with the actors.
“He knew that he needed them and because of that he showered them with love, Toubiana told France Info radio. “Each film was a kind of shared game, with its own rules in which each person played his role.
Born Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer on April 4, 1920, in the eastern French city of Nancy, Rohmer began life as a journalist and then a teacher and gave early notice of his liking for anonymity when he published his 1946 novel “Elisabeth under the pseudonym Gilbert Cordier.
Moving to Paris and joining the staff of the influential film journal Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s, where he worked alongside other New Wave directors Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette, Scherer settled into the assumed identity of Rohmer.
Though his name at birth was Maurice Scherer, he created his artistic pseudonym by rearranging the sounds in his first and last name to come up with Rohmer, he told Le Monde newspaper in 2007.
Rohmer directed his first feature “Le Signe du Lion (The Sign of Leo) in 1959 just as the New Wave was emerging, but unlike the celebrated responses to the films by Godard and Truffaut, his was a flop.
Along with his series of moral tales, Rohmer produced a cycle of modern-day relationship fables for each season of the year, and another dubbed the cycle of “comedies and proverbs, with each film taking its inspiration from a proverb. One popular film in that series was 1983’s “Pauline a la plage (Pauline at the Beach), focusing on a teenager on a seaside holiday.
Thierry Fremaux, who runs the Cannes Film Festival, told BFM television that though Rohmer’s films weren’t “trendy, they were timeless.
“He proved that you can make great movies with small budgets, Fremaux said. “And that’s good to keep in mind in the times we live in.
Rohmer was a very private person, but his survivors are believed to include his younger brother, philosopher Rene Scherer, and his son journalist Rene Monzat.
Information on funeral arrangements was not immediately available. -Agencies