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RENÉ CLAIR

(René-Lucien Chomette)

France

Born: Paris, France, 11 November 1898.
Died: Neuilly, France, 15 March 1981.


René Clair (JPG, 9 KB)

One of the first auteurs of world cinema, Clair epitomized a certain idea of "Frenchness," with his light, witty and elegant films which ranged from farce to sentimental comedy. Although Jean Renoir now stands as the greatest French director of the classical era, at the time Clair had a higher standing: André Bazin could write in 1957, "René Clair is probably, after Chaplin, the most esteemed director in the world" (an opinion not shared by other writers at Cahiers du cinéma). Clair was an actor and film critic before becoming assistant to Jacques de Baroncelli and joining the French avant-garde. Entr'acte (1924) and Paris qui dort / The Crazy Ray (1924-25) wedded formal experimentation with Surrealist fantasy and a touch of the populism which characterized his later work. He injected movement into two Labiche farces, Un chapeau de paille d'Italie / The Italian Straw Hat (1928) and Les Deux timides (1929), especially with the comic chases inherited from early cinema which became his trademark. Sous les toits de Paris (1930), Le Million (1931) and Quatorze juillet (1932), all brilliantly designed by Lazare Meerson, fixed an iconography of popular Paris—a "sweet" version of the darker Poetic Realism, full of street singers, irate concierges and neighbours, and pretty midinettes (like Annabella in the latter two films). At the same time, Sous les toits de Paris, one of the first French talking pictures, was a remarkable experiment in sound, both technically and in its discourse on the possibilities of the new dimension. As a social satire on modernization, À nous la liberté (1931) foreshadowed Chaplin's Modern Times (1936). By 1934, the failure of Le Dernier milliardaire (another social satire, about an imaginary dictatorship) hinted that Clair's style was going out of fashion.

— Ginette Vincendeau, Encylopedia of European Cinema



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