Nationality: French. Born: Luzarches (Seine-et-Oize), 5 August 1903. Education: Lycée Janson-de-Sailly, Paris, at Ecole nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs, at Ecole des Beaux Arts, and at Mill Hill School, London. Family: Married Ghislain Auboin (deceased). Career: Art director on L'Herbier's Le Carnaval des vérités, 1925; made several avant-garde films, and worked as assistant to René Clair, 1923–25; made French versions of American films in Hollywood, 1930–32; returned to France and directed first feature, 1933; president of Syndicat des techniciens du cinéma, 1948–55; president of Fédération nationale du spectacle, 1957–63. Awards: Grand prix du Cinema français, 1954; Prix Europa, Rome, 1974; Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur; Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. Address: 66 rue Lepic, 75018 Paris, France.
Films as Director:
Construire un feu; Vittel
Buster se marie (d of French version of American film Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath [Sedgwick])
Le Plumbier amoureux (d of French version of American film The Passionate Plumber [Sedgwick]); Le Fils du Rajah (d of French version of American film Son of India [Feyder]); La Pente (d of French version of American film); Pur Sang (d of French version of American film)
L'Athlète incomplet (d of French version of American film); Le Gendarme est sans pitié; Un Client sérieux; Monsieur le Duc; La Peur des coups; Invite Monsieur à dîner
Ciboulette (+ co-sc, co-costume des)
My Partner Mr. Davis (The Mysterious Mr. Davis) (+ co-sc, pr)
L'Affaire du courrier de Lyon (The Courier of Lyon) (co-d)
Le Ruisseau (co-d)
Le Mariage de Chiffon; Lettres d'amour
Douce (Love Story)
Sylvie et le fantôme (Sylvie and the Phantom)
Le Diable au corps (Devil in the Flesh)
Occupe-toi d'Amélie (Oh Amelia!)
L'Auberge rouge (The Red Inn) (+ co-sc)
"L'Orgueil" ("Pride") episode of Les 7 Péchés capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins) (+ co-sc)
Le Bon Dieu sans confession (+ co-sc); Le Blé en herbe (The Game of Love) (+ co-sc)
Le Rouge et le noir
Marguerite de la nuit; La Traversée de Paris (Four Bags Full)
En Cas de malheur (Love Is My Profession); Le Joueur
La Jument verte (The Green Mare) (+ pr)
Les Régates de San Francisco; Le Bois des amants
Tu ne tueras point (Non uccidere; Thou Shalt Not Kill) (+ co-pr); Le Comte de Monte Cristo (The Story of the Count of Monte Cristo)
Vive Henri IV . . . Vive l'amour!
Le Meurtrier (Enough Rope)
Le Magot de Joséfa (+ co-sc); "La Fourmi" episode of Humour noir
Le Journal d'une femme en blanc (A Woman in White)
Le Nouveau Journal d'une femme en blanc (Une Femme en blanc se révolte)
"Aujourd'hui" ("Paris Today") episode of Le Plus Vieux Métier du monde (The Oldest Profession); Le Franciscain de Bourges
Les Patates (+ co-sc)
Le Rouge et le blanc
Lucien Leuwen (for TV)
Gloria (+ co-sc)
Le Carnaval des vérités (L'Herbier) (art d, costume des); L'Ex-voto (L'Herbier) (art d, costume des)
L'Homme du large (L'Herbier) (art d, costume des)
Villa Destin (L'Herbier) (art d, costume des); Eldorado (L'Herbier) (co-art d, costume des)
Don Juan et Faust (L'Herbier) (art d, costume des)
L'Inhumaine (L'Herbier) (co-art d, costume des); Le Marchand de plaisir (Catelain) (co-art d, costume des)
Nana (Renoir) (co-art d, co-costume des, ro as Fauchery)
Le Diable au coeur (L'Herbier) (art d, costume des)
Flash 29 (ro as himself)
Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (for TV) (ro as himself)
By AUTANT-LARA: books—
La Rage dans le couer: Chronique cinématographique du 20èmesiècle, Paris, 1984.
Hollywood Cake-walk (1930–1932): Chronique cinématographiquedu 20ème siècle, Paris, 1985.
By AUTANT-LARA: articles—
"Styles du cinéma français," in La Livre d'or du Cinéma Français1947–48, edited by René Jeanne and Charles Ford, Paris, 1948.
Numerous polemical articles on the state of French cinema and studios, and attacking government policies, in La Technicien duFilm (Paris), Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), and other French periodicals, early to mid-1950s.
"La Traversée de Paris est un film insolité," interview with Martine Monod, in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), 4 October 1956.
"Les Etrennes du cinéma françaises," in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), 3 January 1957.
"Attention, notre métier n'est pas un métier d'hurluberlus," in LaTechnicien du Film (Paris), May 1958.
"La Parole est à Claude Autant-Lara," interview with Marcel Oms, in Cahiers de la Cinématheque (Paris), Summer 1973.
Interview with J. C. Bonnet and others, in Cinématographe (Paris), April 1978.
"Lausanne (Autant-Lara)," in Positif (Paris), December 1981.
Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), Summer 1983.
Interview in Film Français (Paris), 6 March 1987.
On AUTANT-LARA: books—
Buache, Freddy, Claude Autant-Lara, Lausanne, 1982.
L'Institut Lumière présente Claude Autant-Lara en 33 films, Lyons, 1983.
On AUTANT-LARA: articles—
de la Roche, Catherine, "The Fighter," in Films and Filming (London), January 1955.
Durgnat, Raymond, "The Rebel with Kid Gloves," in Films andFilming (London), October and November 1960.
Biofilmography in Film Dope (London), no. 2, 1973.
Special issue of Cahiers de la Cinématheque (Paris), Spring 1973.
"L'Auberge rouge Dossier," in Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1982.
Carbonnier, A., and Joel Magny, in Cinéma (Paris), September 1982.
"Claude Autant-Lara," in Film Dope (London), March 1988.
Joffre, Laurent, "La tache brune: De l'affaire du Carmel aux propos d'Autant-Lara," in Nouvel Observateur (Paris), 14 September 1989.
Bergan, Ronald, "Out of Sight, out of Mind," in Guardian (London), 28 September 1989.
Chardère, Bernard, "Autant-Lara le premier," in Jeune Cinèma (Paris), January-February 1997.
* * *
Claude Autant-Lara is best known for his post-World War II films in the French "tradition of quality." His earliest work in the industry was more closely related to the avant-garde movements of the 1920s than to the mainstream commercial cinema with which he was later identified. He began as a set designer in the 1920s, serving as art director for several of Marcel L'Herbier's films, including L'Inhumaine, and for Jean Renoir's Nana; he also assisted René Clair on a number of his early shorts. After directing several films, he worked on an early wide-screen experiment, Construire un feu, using the Hypergonar system designed by Henri Chretien. On the basis of his work in this format, he was brought to Hollywood and ended up directing French-language versions of American films for several years. He returned to France and directed his first feature of note, Ciboulette, in 1933.
During the war Autant-Lara exercised greater control in his choice of projects and started working with scenarists Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, who would continue to be among his most consistent collaborators. He also started assembling a basic crew that worked with him through the 1960s: composer René Cloerec, designer Max Douy, editor Madeleine Gug, and cameraman Jacques Natteau. Autant-Lara rapidly established his reputation as a studio director in the tradition of quality. For many, the names Aurenche, Bost, and Autant-Lara are synonymous with this movement. Their films are characterized by an emphasis on scripting and dialogue, a high proportion of literary adaptations, a solemn "academic" visual style, and general theatricality (due largely to the emphasis on dialogue and its careful delivery to create a cinematic world determined by psychological realism). They frequently attack or ridicule social groups and institutions.
Autant-Lara's first major postwar film, Le Diable au corps, was adapted from a novel by Raymond Radiguet. Set during World War I, it tells the story of an adolescent's affair with a young married woman whose husband is away at war. While the film was considered scandalous by many for its valorization of adultery and tacit condemnation of war, it was also seen to express the cynical mood of postwar youth. Autant-Lara's films seem to revel in irreverent depictions of established authority and institutions. L'Auberge rouge is a black comedy involving murderous innkeepers, a group of insipid travellers (representing a cross-section of classes), and a monk trapped by the vows of confession.
Throughout the 1950s Autant-Lara was extremely active. His successes of the period include Le Rouge et le noir, adapted from Stendhal; La Traversée de Paris, a comedy about black-market trading in occupied France; and En cas de malheur, a melodrama involving a middle-aged lawyer, his young client, and her student lover. At the same time Autant-Lara was an active spokesman for the French film industry. As head of several film trade unions and other groups promoting French film, he criticized (often harshly) the Centre National du cinéma française (CNC) for its inadequate support of the industry; the American film industry for its stultifying presence in the French market; and government censorship policies for limiting freedom of expression.
Autant-Lara's prominence was effectively eclipsed with the emergence of the French New Wave, although he continued directing films. In the 1950s he, along with Aurenche and Bost, had been subject to frequent critical attacks, most notably by François Truffaut. In the wake of the success of the new generation of directors, Autant-Lara's work is often seen as no more than the "stale" French cinema of the 1950s which was successfully displaced by the more vital films of the New Wave. Yet in spite of, indeed owing to, their "armchair" criticism of authority, bleak representation of human nature, and slow-paced academic style, they possess a peculiarly appealing, insolent sensibility.
—M. B. White