Nationality: French. Born: Puy de Dôme, 31 August 1925. Education: Studied Art at Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris. Career: Exhibited work at salons, 1945–47; actor and assistant stage director to Michel Vitold, from 1955; worked in TV, made films, from 1960; directed first feature, 1967. Awards: Jean Vigo Prize, for L'enfance nue, 1967; Prix Louis Delluc, and César for Best Film, for A nos amours, 1983; Palme d'Or, Cannes Festival, for Sous le soleil de Satan, 1987.
Films as Director:
L'amour existe (short)
Janine (for TV)
Maitre Galip (for TV)
L'enfance nue (+ sc)
La maison des bois (for TV) (+ role)
Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble (+ sc, pr)
La gueule ouverte (+ sc, pr)
Passe ton bac d'abord
A nos amours (To Our Loves)
Police (+ co-sc)
Sous le soleil de Satan (Under Satan's Sun) (+ co-sc, role)
Van Gogh (+ sc)
Le Garçu (+ sc)
Que la bete meure (Chabrol) (role)
By PIALAT: book—
Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, Paris, 1972.
By PIALAT: articles—
Interview in Image et Son (Paris), March 1972.
Interviews in Positif (Paris), May 1974 and October 1980.
Interviews in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1979 and December 1983.
Interview with E. Carrère and M. Sineux, in Positif (Paris), January 1984.
Interview with Michel Ciment and others, in Positif (Paris), October 1985.
Interview with Serge Toubiana and Alain Philippon, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), September 1987.
Interview with L. Vachaud, in Positif (Paris), November 1991.
Interview with Michel Ciment and M. Sineux, in Positif (Paris), May 1992.
Interview with C. Collard, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1993.
Interview with Frédéric Strauss and others, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1993.
Interview with Philippe Garel, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris),
Interview with Jacques Kermabon, in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 77, Summer 1995.
Interview with Vincent Amiel and others, in Positif (Paris), December 1995.
On PIALAT: books—
Magny, Joel, Maurice Pialat, Paris, 1992.
Toffetti, Sergio, and Aldo Tassone, Maurice Pialat: L'enfant sauvage, Torino, 1992.
On PIALAT: articles—
Bonitzer, Pascal, "Le rayonnement Pialat," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1981.
Dossier on Pialat, in Cinématographe (Paris), November 1983.
Pialat Section of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1983.
Gras, P., "Maurice Pialat," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), September 1985.
Vincendeau, Ginette, "Pialat le terrible," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), March 1986.
Martin, Marcel, and G. Lenne, "Le silence de Dieu: Critiques dans l'auditorium—perplexes," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), September 1987.
Chevassu, F., "Les droles de chemins de Maurice Pialat," in Revuedu Cinéma (Paris), December 1990.
Vrdlovec, Z., "Maurice Pialat," in Ekran (Ljubljana), vol. 16, no. 9/10, 1991.
Jousse, T., "L'affaire Van Gogh," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1991.
Rouyer, P., "Quelques jours avec lui," in Positif (Paris), November 1991.
Signorelli, A., "France Cinema: la Scoperta si chiama Pialat," in Cineforum (Bergamo), January-February 1993.
Roy, A., "Petit dictionnaire pour Maurice Pialat," in Revue de laCinématheque (Montreal), March/April 1993.
Depardieu Gérard, "Je vous salue Maurice," in Télérama (Paris), 19 July 1995.
* * *
Described by Alain Bergala in Cahiers du Cinéma as "Renoir's true heir today," Maurice Pialat is squarely in the tradition of French auteur cinema. Like Renoir, Feyder, and Grémillon in the 1930s, and Godard, Resnais, Varda, and a few others after the war, Pialat is an artisan who works both within and against the French film industry. He has often acknowledged his "debt" to Renoir, as well as to Pagnol, in terms of both working methods and a certain conception of realism. However, unlike the benign humanism of these two predecessors, Pialat's work is marked by harshness, violence, and conflict, both on and off screen.
From his first feature (L'enfance nue, on deprived childhood), Pialat's films have shown an almost ethnographic concern with unglamorous areas of French society: difficult adolescents (Passe ton bac d'abord), semi-hooligans (Loulou), the bitter breakdown of a couple (Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble) and cancer (La gueule ouverte), combining a quasi cinéma-vérité approach with the reworking of deeply personal matters. Although Pialat has claimed to be "fed up with realism," and even though he has made forays into genre films with Police and Sous le soleil de Satan, his cinema is still within a realistic idiom, fusing the New Wave (and neo-realist) concern with location shooting and contemporary setting with the "intimate" realism of the central European cinema of the 1960s. His films draw on basic realist strategies such as the use of non-professional or little-known actors (sometimes alongside stars like Gérard Depardieu, and on occasion—Renoir-style—the charismatic Pialat himself), the frequent recourse to improvisation and colloquial language, hand-held camerawork, long takes, and shooting without a finished script. If these strategies traditionally produce a sense of immediacy and authenticity, they often combine, in Pialat's films, with a rare violence.
Pialat has earned a reputation as a "difficult" director. To some extent, this is an inherent part of the myth of auteur cinema which stresses the romantic pains of creation. Yet Pialat's career is littered with well-publicized working and personal conflicts: with actors Gérard Depardieu (Loulou) and Sophie Marceau (Police), with scriptwriter Catherine Breillat over Police, and with technicians on many occasions. But part of his method consists precisely of inscribing his own personal relationships within the fabric of his films, as epitomised in A nos amours by the Pialat/Bonnaire couple (on several professional and personal levels).
"Pialat le terrible," as he was dubbed by a French paper, sometimes makes headlines, and occasionally the courtrooms. This would be mere gossip if it did not echo the very subject matter of his films. In the same way as Sam Fuller defined cinema as "a battleground," Pialat's filmmaking might be described as belonging to the boxing ring. He has repeatedly stated his preference for situations where people have rows, where they clash, where "there is trouble," and this is borne out by all his films, where conflict is the preferred element, a type of conflict which moreover assumes a great physicality. In Pialat's cinema, contact is more likely to be made through violence than through tenderness, particularly within the family, where the boxing ring overlaps with the Oedipal stage. This is true both thematically (families and couples tearing each other apart) and in the way Pialat's films address their spectators. A predominance of indoor scenes shot in claustrophobic medium close-ups, and the deliberate inclusion of "flawed" episodes, of moments of rupture or tension in the films, are ways of capturing "the truth" of characters or situations, sometimes with little regard for narrative continuity. Pialat does not pull his punches, and his cinema, in the words of editor Yann Dedet, "tends more towards emotion than comprehension."
If Pialat's films, in their bleak examination of some of the least palatable aspects of contemporary French society and personal emotions, make for difficult viewing, their reward lies in an emotional and documentary power rare in French cinema today.