Alain Resnais with Sony Classics co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard at the 2009 NYFF. Photo by Godlis.
Celebrated French filmmaker Alain Resnais passed away in Paris Saturday at 91. His producer, Jean-Louis Livi, confirmed Resnais's death over the weekend.
Resnais's career spanned six decades and multiple genres. He last attended the New York Film Festival in 2009 with Wild Grass (Les herbes folles), which also won a special jury prize that year in Cannes. His 2006 feature, Private Fears in Public Places, also screened at the NYFF, in 2006. Resnais's final film, Life of Riley (Aimer, bore et chanter), won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer prize at the Berlin International Film Festival last month, though the director did not attend. Livi accepted the award on his behalf.
Resnais trained as a film editor in the 1940s and went on to direct a string of shorts, including his haunting 31-minute Holocaust documentary, Night and Fog (1955), before turning to features. His debut, Hiroshima mon amour (1959), received much acclaim as well as an Oscar nomination for Marguerite Duras's screenplay. Last Year at Marienbad (1961)—which won the Golden Lion at Venice—and Muriel (1963), noted for their nontraditional narratives centered on troubled memory and imagined pasts, were considered part of the French New Wave, though Resnais did not place himself with the movement more often associated with Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. He shared a connection with modernism and an interest in left-wing politics and consistently collaborated with writers not typically associated with moviemaking, including Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Jorge Semprún, according to his Wikipedia bio.
Resnais also received a Silver Bear at the 1994 Berlin International Film Festival for Smoking/No Smoking, which also won Best Film at France's Césars that year. In 2009, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Richard Peña, Director Emeritus, New York Film Festival and Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, said of Resnais Sunday: “Along with D.W. Griffith, Orson Welles, and perhaps one or two others, Alain Resnais was one of the watershed figures of film history. Somehow, the cinema that appeared after works such as Hiroshima mon amour or Last Year at Marienbad never quite looked like the cinema that came before it. A relentless explorer, he saw each new work as a challenge, as an invitation to discover the medium's infinite possibilities.”
French President François Hollande said France had lost “one of its greatest filmmakers,” according to BBC. “He received all the recognition and prizes. But what counted for him was always his next work.”
Resnais was born in 1922 in the village of Vannes in Brittany, where his father was a pharmacist. An only child, he was often ill with asthma and was educated at home. He studied acting at the Cours René Simon from 1940-42, but decided to study film editing in 1943. He joined the military in 1945 and returned to cinema the following year, persuading his neighbor, actor Gérard Philipe, to appear in his 16mm surrealist short, Schéma d'une identification, which is now lost.
Resnais is survived by his second wife, Sabine Azema, whom he married in 1998. She starred in many of his films since the early 1980s.