Art Director. Nationality: French. Born: Odessa, Russia, 18 August 1907; emigrated with his parents to France, 1921. Education: Attended Lycée Buffon, Paris; studied painting with Edwin Scott and stage design with Pavel Tchelitchew; attended the School of Decorative Arts, Paris. Family: Married Marie Pück, 1947; one son and one daughter from earlier marriage. Career: Entered films as assistant to Lazare Meerson in late 1920s: first film as art director, Baroud, 1931; designer of stage productions for Barrault and Petit, of plays in England, and operas at La Scala; 1940—cofounder of Centre Artistique et Technique des Jeunes du Cinéma, predecessor of IDHEC. Member, Legion of Honor. Died: Of heart attack, in Paris, 11 February 1984.
Films as Art Director:
Tarakanova (Bernard) (asst)
Baroud (Love in Morocco) (Ingram); Le Chanteur inconnu (Tourjansky)
Les Bleus de l'amour (de Marguenat) (co); Plaisirs de Paris (Gréville); La Tête d'un homme (Duvivier)
Ce cochon de Morin (Lacombe); Don Quichotte (Pabst) (co); L'Homme à l'Hispano (Epstein); L'Agonie des aigles (Richebe) (co); Quelqu'un a tué (Forrester) (co); Le Voyage de Mr. Perrichon (Tarride) (co)
Madame Bovary (Renoir) (co); Les Filles de la concierge (J. Tourneur) (co); Un Tour de cochon (Tzipine) (co)
La Kermesse héroïque (Carnival in Flanders) (Feyder) (co)
Nitchevo (de Baroncelli) (co); A nous deux, Madame la vie (Mirande and Guissart)
Feu! (de Baroncelli); Nostalgie (Tourjansky) (co); Le Temps des cerises (Le Chanois); Le Chanteur de minuit (Joannon); La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion) (Renoir) (asst)
La Marseillaise (Renoir) (co); Prison sans barreaux (Prison without Bars) (Moguy); La Maison du Maltais (Chenal); La Belle Etoile (de Baroncelli) (co); Gibraltar (Ozep)
Conflits (Moguy); Louise (Gance); Le Dernier Tournant (Chenal); Pièges (Personal Column) (Siodmak); Sérénade (Boyer)
Faut ce qu'il faut (Monsieur Bibi) (Pujol) (co)
Le Club des soupirants (Gleize); Le Soleil a toujours raison (Billon) (co); Mélodie pour toi (Rozier) (co)
Les Visiteurs du soir (The Devil's Envoys) (Carné) (co)
La Vie de Bohème (L'Herbier); L'Eternel Retour (The Eternal Return) (Delannoy); Le Mort ne reçoit plus (Tarride); Béatrice devant le désir (de Marguenat); La Boite aux rêves (Choux and Y. Allégret)
Mademoiselle X (Billon)
Vingt-quatre heures de perm' (Cloche—produced 1940); L'Invité de la lle (Cloche)
Sérénade aux nuages (Cayatte); Les Démons de l'aube (Y. Allégret); L'Homme au chapeau rond (Billon); Martin Roumagnac (Lacombe); La Danse de mort (Cravenne) (co); Miroir (Lamy) (co)
Ruy Blas (Billon); L'Aigle à deux têtes (The Eagle with Two Heads) (Cocteau)
Dédée d'Anvers (Dédée) (Y. Allégret); Now Barrabas (Now Barrabas Was a Robber . . . ) (Parry)
Miquette et sa mère (Miquette) (Clouzot)
L'Aiguille rouge (Reinert)
Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard) (Christian-Jaque); Les Sept Péchés capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins) (Rim); The Medium (Menotti)
Nez de cuir (Y. Allégret)
The Beggar's Opera (Brook); Mam'zelle Nitouche (Y. Allégret); Innocents in Paris (Parry); Le Chair et le diable (Josipovici)
Ali Baba et les 40 voleurs (Ali Baba) (Jacques Becker)
Don Juan (Berry)
Si le roi savait ça (Canaille)
Escapade (Habib); Tamango (Barry); Clara et les méchants (André); Me and the Colonel (Glenville)
Paris Holiday (Oswald); La Femme et le pantin (Duvivier); Jeux dangereux (Chenal) (co)
Marie Octobre (Secret Meeting) (Duvivier); L'Ambitieuse (Y. Allégret)
Les Collants noirs (Black Tights) (Young)
King of Kings (Ray); Les Amours Célèbres (Boisrond)
Le Crime ne paie pas (Crime Does Not Pay) (Oury)
Shéhérazade (Gaspard-Huit); Peau de banane (Banana Peel) (Marcel Ophüls); Le Journal d'une femme de chambre (Diary of a Chambermaid) (Buñuel)
Echappement libre (Backfire) (Jean Becker); Par un beau matin d'été (Deray)
Les Fêtes galantes (Clair); Monnaie de singe (Jean Becker)
Tendre voyou (Tender Scoundrel) (Jean Becker)
Toutes folles du lui (Carbonnaux); Oscar (Molinaro); Carmen (von Karajan)
King Lear (Brook); I pagliacci (von Karajan)
La Folie des grandeurs (Oury)
Meetings with Remarkable Men (Brook)
La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen) (Brook)
Films as Designer:
Les Trois Mousquetaires (Diamant-Berger)
Marianne de ma jeunesse (Duvivier)
By WAKHÉVITCH: book—
L'Envers des décors, Paris, 1977
By WAKHÉVITCH: articles—
Cinématographe (Paris), March 1982.
Positif (Paris), May 1982.
On Cocteau in Cinéma (Paris), March 1983
On WAKHÉVITCH: book—
Georges Wakhévitch: Décors et costumes 1930–1980, Marseilles, 1980.
On WAKHÉVITCH: articles—
Film Français (Paris), 4 February 1977.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 22 February 1984.
Obituary in Cinématographe, no. 98, March 1984.
Obituary in The Annual Obituary 1984, Chicago, 1985.
* * *
Before he entered films in the late 1920s, Georges Wakhévitch studied painting and the decorative arts, a training he put to good use as he designed costumes and sets for many stage, opera, and ballet productions, as well as important films. He would be as comfortable with gritty realism as with the fanciful, period studies for which he is best known. Combining design with solid constructions, he would design realistic sets creating illusions of reality that few others could accomplish. The 60 films he worked on are the mark of his refined personality and his taste for the baroque. His most characteristic films are Les Visiteurs du soir, L'Eternal Retour, Ruy Blas, L'Aigle à deux têtes, and Dédée d'Anvers.
Wakhévitch started his career as the assistant of Lazare Meerson and Serge Pimenoff, participating in such films as Le Chanter Inconnu (1931), L'Homme à l'Hispano (1933), and Ce Cochon de Morin (1933). His real debut, however, was Madame Bovary in 1934.
He also worked with Jean Renoir on La Grande Illusion and La Marseillaise. Renoir's La Grande Illusion was filmed in a documentary style and called for a look as realistic as possible. Wakhévitch was able to achieve perfect illusions of reality in this story of World War I prisoners caught in the dry rot of inaction. The film noir, Dédée d'Anvers, is another example of Wakhévitch's use of realism. The tawdry streets and café ribaldry of the Antwerp waterfront establish the film's melancholy mood.
In contrast to these films are the French historical superproductions and period fantasies with which Wakhévitch is most associated. He applied his taste for the theatrical to make memorable contributions to such films as Pierre Chenal's La Maison du Maltais, Marcel L'Herbier's La Vie de Bohème, Abel Gance's Louise, and Marcel Carne's Les Visiteurs du soir. Les Visiteurs du soir was set in the Middle Ages, and for this film, Wakhévitch, much to the horror of some critics, designed a new, white medieval castle. Louise was a film adaptation of the French opera set in springtime Paris.
Wakhévitch was often solicited by foreign directors. He designed The Beggar's Opera and King Lear for Peter Brook, Mayerling for Terence Young, and King of Kings for Nicholas Ray. Mayerling, a 19th-century period piece set in Austria, called for the colorful dresses, furniture, and settings for which Wakhévitch is known. The Beggar's Opera is another marriage between film and opera. In this film,Wakhévitch used impressive backgrounds and a restrained use of color. It included scenes of high and low life in London: Newgate Prison's sordidness; gay and boisterous mobs in the streets; and flashing dance scenes in a tavern, sumptuous surroundings where the rich gambled. In short, it provided a kaleidoscope of colorful views of London. In Peter Brook's King Lear, Wakhévitch used black-and-white film, which Brook thought would add to the overall theme of the story. To compliment the gray tones of the sand dunes and the stormy Danish seas, the interiors were shot with deep shadows that wrap the images in darkness.
Wakhévitch was active in films until the 1980s, finishing his career with two more Peter Brooks films, Meetings with Remarkable Men and La Tragédie de Carmen.