Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 13 July 1923. Education: Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and at Polytechnique. Family: Married Elyette Helies, 1983. Career: Literary and film critic, since 1945; published novel Les Vacances, 1945; assistant to Marcel Achard and Marc Allegret, 1946–47; made two short films, 1948–49; began series of six feature-length films with Mauvaises rencontres, 1955; TV reporter for Radio Luxembourg, 1969–72. Awards: Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur; Officier de l'Ordre du Mérite; Officier des Arts et des Lettres. Address: 168 rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris, France.
Films as Director:
Aller et retour (Aller-retour) (+ sc)
Ulysse ou Les Mauvaises rencontres (+ sc)
Le Rideau cramoisi (The Crimson Curtain) (+ sc)
Les Mauvaises rencontres (+ co-sc)
Une Vie (End of Desire) (+ co-sc)
La Proie pour l'ombre (+ co-sc)
L'Education sentimentale (+ sc)
Le Puits et le pendule (The Pit and the Pendulum) (for TV) (+ sc)
Evariste Galois (+ sc)
La Longue Marche (+ co-sc)
Flammes sur l'Adriatique (+ co-sc)
Sartre par lui-même (co-d)
Arsène Lupin joue et perd (mini for TV)
La Chute de la maison Usher (mini for TV)
Jean de la Lune (Achard) (co-sc)
La P . . . respecteuse (Pagliero) (co-sc); La Valse de Paris (Achard) (role)
L'Affaire Manet (Aurel) (commentary)
Le Vicomte de Bragelonne (Cerchio) (co-sc)
Bassae (Pollet) (sc)
La Jeune Fille assassinee (role as Publisher)
Francois Truffaut: Stolen Portraits (role as himself)
By ASTRUC: books—
Les Vacances, 1945.
La Tête la première, Ciel de Cendres, 1975.
Le Serpent Jaune, 1976.
Sartre, Paris, 1977.
Quand la chouette s'envole, 1978.
Le Permissionnaire, 1982.
Le Roman de Descartes, 1989.
De la caméra au stylo, 1992.
L'autre versant de la colline, Paris, 1993.
By ASTRUC: articles—
"Le Feu et la glace," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1952; as "Fire and Ice," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), January 1966.
Interview in Film Français (Paris), 6 March 1987.
"'L'aurore' sur un drap," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1991.
"Une vie, du film au roman: 'Ma' lecture. Entretien avec Alexandre Astruc," in CinémAction TV (Courbevoie), April 1993.
On ASTRUC: articles—
Eisner, Lotte, "Venice Film Festival," in Film Culture (New York), vol. 2, no. 1, 1956.
Weber, Eugene, "An Escapist Realism," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1959.
"Sur une émission de télévision," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February/March 1974.
Beylie, Claude, "Quatre de la forfanterie," in Ecran (Paris), October 1975.
"Alexandre Astruc," in Film Dope (London), March 1988.
Moullet, L., "Splendeurs et vanites du lyrisme," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), October 1992.
* * *
Alexandre Astruc was the embodiment of the revolutionary hopes of a renewed cinema after the war. True, Clément, Bresson, and Melville were already making films in a new way, but making them in the age-old industry. Astruc represented a new, arrogant sensibility. He had grown up on the ideas of Sartre and was one of the youthful literati surrounding the philosopher in the St. Germain-des-Prés cafes. There he talked of a new French culture being born, one that demanded new representations in fiction and film.
His personal aspirations were great and grew even greater when his novel Les Vacances was published by the prestigious N.R.F., almost winning an important prize. While writing essays on art and culture for Combat and L'Ecran français he became convinced that the cinema must replace the novel.
But first the cinema must become more like the novel. In his crucial essay "Le Caméra stylo," written the same year as Sartre's "Situation of the Writer in 1948," he called for an end to institutional cinema and for a new style that would be both personal and malleable. He wanted cinema to be able to treat diverse ideas and a range of expressions. He, like Sartre, wanted to become ethical.
This was the first loud clarion cry of the New Wave and it provoked attention in its own day. Astruc found himself linked with Bazin, Cocteau, Marker, and Tacchella against the Stalinists at L'Ecran français, led by Louis Daquin. Banding together to form "Objectif 48," these men created a new atmosphere for cinema, attracting the young Truffaut and Godard to their screenings.
Everyone looked to Astruc to begin turning out short films, but his 16mm efforts ran aground. Soon he began writing scripts for acceptable standard directors like Marc Allégret. Finally in 1952 he was able to make Le Rideau cramoisi in his own way. It was a remarkable way: this nineteenth-century mystery tale was reduced to a set of unforgettable images and a soundtrack that contained no dialogue whatsoever. Pushing the voice-over discoveries of Bresson and Melville to the limit, Astruc's narrational device places the film somewhere between dream and memory. This coincides perfectly with the haunting night photography and Anouk Aimée's inscrutably romantic performance.
There followed more adaptations, not because Astruc had joined the industry's penchant for such quality material, but because he always believed in the overriding import of style, seeing plots as pretexts only. The color photography in Une Vie, for example, explores the painterly concerns of the impressionists. But since the plot comes from a Maupassant tale written in the same era, the result is unpretentious.
In his older age Astruc has renounced this obsession with style. The themes that possess him now, crises in marriage and love, can actually be seen in all his earlier work as well. Now he can explore these issues in television, the medium that seems perfectly suited to his early ideas. Only now his ideas have changed and so has his following. Alexandre Astruc must always be mentioned in any chronicle of modern French cinema, but his career can only be thought of as disappointing.