Nationality: French. Born: Bordeaux, 18 March 1913. Education: Educated in architecture at Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Career: Made animated film, Cesar chez les Gaulois, while a student, early 1930s; directed first live-action film, Soigne ton gauche (with Jacques Tati), 1936; made documentaries in Arabia and North Africa, 1936–39; technical consultant on Cocteau's La Belle et la bête, 1946. Awards: Best Director Award, Cannes festival, for La Bataille du rail, 1946, and Au-dela des grilles, 1949; Academy Awards, Best Foreign Film, for Au delà des grilles (1949) and Jeux interdits (1951). Died: 17 March 1996.
Films as Director:
Soigne ton gauche (short)
L'Arabie interdite (short)
La Grande Chartreuse (short)
La Bièvre, fille perdue (short)
Le Triage (short)
Ceux du rail (short)
La Grande Pastorale (short)
Chefs de demain (short)
La Bataille du rail (Battle of the Rails) (+ sc)
Le Père tranquille (Mr. Orchid)
Les Maudits (The Damned) (+ co-adapt)
Au-delà des grilles Le Mura di Malapaga (The Walls of Malapaga)
Le Chateau de verre (+ co-sc)
Les Jeux interdits (Forbidden Games) (+ co-sc)
Monsieur Ripois (Knave of Hearts); Lovers, Happy Lovers (+ co-sc)
Barrage contre le Pacifique (La Diga sul Pacifico); This Angry Age; The Sea Wall (+ co-sc)
Plein soleil (Purple Noon; Lust for Evil (+ co-sc)
Che gioia vivere (Quelle joie de vivre) (+ co-sc)
Le Jour et l'heure (The Day and the Hour) (+ co-sc)
Les Félins (Joy House); The Love Cage (+ co-sc)
Paris brûle-t-il? (Is Paris Burning?)
Le Passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain)
La Maison sous les arbres (The Deadly Trap)
La Course du lièvre à travers les champs (And Hope to Die)
Jeune fille libre le soir (L.A. Babysitter) (+ co-sc)
By CLÉMENT: articles—
Interview with Francis Koval, in Sight and Sound (London), June 1950.
"On Being a Creator," in Films and Filming (London), October 1960.
On CLÉMENT: books—
Siclier, Jacques, René Clément, Brussels, 1956.
Farwagi, André, René Clément, Paris, 1967.
Armes, Roy, French Cinema since 1946: Vol.1—The Great Tradition, New York, 1970.
On CLEMENT: articles—
Queval, Jean, in L'Écran Français (Paris), 16 October 1946.
Régent, Roger, in L'Écran Français (Paris), 14 October 1947.
Eisner, Lotte, "Style of René Clément," in Film Culture (New York), nos. 12 and no. 13, 1957.
Riffaud, Madeleine, in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 14 November 1957.
Gilson, René, in Cinéma (Paris), no. 44, 1960.
Mardore, Michel, in Cinéma (Paris), no. 62, 1962.
Bellour, Raymond, in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 11 June 1964.
McVay, Douglas, "The Darker Side of Life," in Films and Filming (London), December 1966.
"Plein soleil Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 February 1981.
Dossier on La bataille du rail, in Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1982.
Oliva, L., "René Clement kdysi—a potom," in Film a Doba (Prague), November 1983.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 25/31 March 1996.
Lyons, Donald, "Purple Noons and Quiet Evenings," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 22, no. 3, May-June 1996.
Bikacsy, G., "René Clément halalara," in Filmvilag (Budapest), vol. 39, no. 5, 1996.
Obituary, in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), no. 462, May 1996.
Obituary, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), May 1996.
Herpe, N., "René Clément," in Positif (Paris), May 1996.
Obituary, in Classic Images (Muscatine), May 1996.
Obituary, in Séquences (Haute-Ville), no. 184, May/June 1996.
Ghiyati, Karim, "Le petit Parisien à la campagne," in Avant-Scènedu Cinéma (Paris), no. 469, February 1998.
Austin, Guy, "Gangsters in Wonderland: René Clément's And Hopeto Die as a Reading of Lewis Carroll's Alice stories," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 26, no. 4, October 1998.
* * *
René Clément was the most promising filmmaker to emerge in France at the end of World War II. He became the most technically adroit and interesting of the makers of "quality" films during the 1950s, only to see his career begin to disappoint the critics. In the years of the New Wave it was Clément, above all, who tied the older generation to the younger, especially through a film like Purple Noon. In a more recent phase he was associated with grand-scale dramas (Is Paris Burning?) and with small, personal, lyric films (Rider on the Rain). Clément began his career auspiciously, helping Cocteau with Beauty and the Beast and directing France's only great resistance film, La Bataille du rail. These films showed the world his wide range. The first is a classic of fantasy while the second exhibits what can only be termed a "neo-realist" style. Because La Bataille du rail was shot on location with non-actors, and because its episodic story was drawn from the chronicle of everyday life, Clément, at the end of the war, was championed as France's answer to the powerful Italian school of the liberation.
For a time Clément seemed anxious to live up to this reputation. He associated himself with the progressive journal L'Ecran francais and sought other realist topics for his films. In Les Maudits he observed the plight of a group of Germans and refugees aboard a submarine. Evidently he was more concerned with the technical problems of filming in small spaces than with the moral dimensions of his plot, and this film was not a great success. But with The Walls of Malapaga Clément recovered his audience. This film, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film, was in fact a Franco-Italian co-production and brought together on the screen the most popular star of each country: Jean Gabin and Isa Miranda. The plot and style returned Clément to the poetic-realist films of pre-war France and continued to exhibit that tension of realism and abstraction that characterized all his work.
Unquestionably he was, along with Claude Autant-Lara, the most important figure in the French film industry during the 1950s. His Forbidden Games remains a classic today and is notable both for the ingenuous performances of his child actors against a natural location and for the moral incisiveness of its witty plot and dialogue, scripted by the team of Aurenche and Bost. Doubtless because he had begun working with these writers, Truffaut condemned Clément in his notorious 1954 essay, "A Certain Tendency in French Cinema," but Bazin, commenting on this essay, found Truffaut to have been too harsh in Clément's case. Indeed Bazin lobbied to have the Cannes Film Festival award its Golden Palm to Clément's next feature, Monsieur Ripois. Starring Gérard Philipe, this film makes extensive use of subjective camera and voice over. Shot on location in London, it is clearly an experimental project.
But Clément's experiments are always limited. Technical problems continue to interest him, but he has never relinquished his belief that a film must be well-crafted in the traditional sense of that term. This is what must always distinguish him from the New Wave filmmakers with whom he otherwise has something in common. His all-knowing pessimism, and his literary good taste, finally put him in the camp of the "quality" directors. Clément, then, must be thought of as consummately French. His technical mastery sits well with his advanced political and moral ideas. He is cultured and trained. He makes excellent films both on a grand scale and on a smaller, more personal one. But finally there is something impersonal about even these small films, for, before representing himself, René Clément represents the institution of filmmaking in France. He is a good representative, perhaps the best it had after the war right up through the New Wave.