Christian-Jacque


Christian-Jacque
(1904-1994)
   Director and screenwriter. Christian-Jacque was born Christian Maudet in Paris. He apparently had no intention of becoming a filmmaker, but instead studied architecture after finishing his studies at the lycée. His introduction to cinema came quite by accident while designing posters for a film-production company as a way to make money to help pay for his studies. So the story goes, his cocreator was someone named Jacques, and the two signed their posters, Christian-Jacque. Christian-Jacque would later use the same name to sign his films. His architectural background may, in part, explain some of Christian-Jacque's reputation as a masterful technician—his studies may well have shaped his sense of form and structure.
   From poster design, Christian-Jacque was introduced to directing by the film director Henry Roussell, whose assistant he became. Following Roussell, he would work with Julien Duvivier, and these two are the principal influences on Christian-Jaccque's own filmmaking style. Around 1926, he also began writing film criticism, so the early period of assisting Roussell and Duvivier and working as a film journalist may be seen as the formative years.
   Christian-Jacque made his first film in 1932, Le Bidon d'or. It was rather unremarkable except that it was sufficient to permit him to establish his career. Although his first films are rather diverse, as was his entire corpus, the two dominant trends of his career are apparent from these early films, namely, an interest in historical romance and literary adaptation and an interest in comedy or farce. And in fact, when Christian-Jacque's name is mentioned it is invariably one of these types of film that comes to mind.
   His first historically oriented film would be François 1er (1937), which is sort of a historical farce, shortly followed by Les Perles de la Couronne (1937), made with Sacha Guitry. His first literary adaptation would be Les Disparus de Saint-Agil (1938), based on the novel by Pierre Very. The majority of his other 1930s films, including La Famille Pont-Biquet (1935), would be comedies or farces.
   During World War II, Christian-Jacque remained in France and continued to make films. His wartime production, like that of many other filmmakers, was influenced by the Occupation and the censor-ship that accompanied it. He worked with the Nazi-owned production company Continental Films, and several of his wartime films were produced by Continental.
   Some of Christian-Jacques's prewar tendencies manifested in the film L'Assassinat du Père Noël (1941), often considered one of his masterpieces. Like Les Disparus de Saint-Agil, the film is based on a novel by Pierre Very. However, like much of the wartime production, it stands apart. In L'Assassinat du Père Noël, some have seen a discourse of resistance. It is particularly difficult to overlook the fact that the Père Noël of the title is played by the actor Harry Baur, and one cannot help but remember that this was one of the last films that Baur would make. This theme of resistance is repeated in the 1945 film Boule-de-suif, an adaptation based on the short story by Maupassant. And one must imagine that there was something subversive in his Carmen (1945), since it was made during the Occupation, although not released until after it. The other major wartime production, La Symphonie fantastique (1942), starring Bertrand Blier and Jean-Louis Barrault, was a historical melodrama based on the life of Hector Berlioz.
   In the immediate postwar years, it was literary adaptation and historical melodrama that would dominate. Christian-Jacque made La Chartreuse de Parme (1948), based on the novel by Stendhal, Barbe-bleue (1951), Fanfan le tulipe (1952), Lucrèce Borgia (1953),Madame du Barry (1954), and Nana (1955), based on the novel by Émile Zola. Some of these adaptations remain to date the definitive versions in French cinema. The immediate postwar period is considered the peak of Christian-Jacque's career, and it is widely accepted that by the 1960s, his films had become largely unremarkable, with the exception perhaps of Madame Sans-Gêne (1961), La Tulipe noire (1964), and the World War II drama Le Repas des fauves (1964). In addition to filming in France, he also made several films in Italy. Many of his best films starred the actress Martine Carol, who was his wife for a brief time. Many believe it was he who best captured her on film.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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