Delannoy, Jean

(1908- )
   Actor, director, film editor, and screen-writer. Jean Delannoy at first pursued a fairly traditional path and studied the classics at university. However, he took up acting while he was a student in Paris in the 1920s. He was one of the few who entered cinema in the early part of the century who has a university degree.
   His career as an actor was fairly short-lived. He appeared in a handful of films, such as Alexandre Volkoff's Casanova (1927) and André Hugon's La Grande passion (1928), before taking up film editing for Paramout Studios Paris. He quickly developed a reputation as a master film editor and did the editing for such films as Max Nosseck and Robert Siodomak's Le Roi des Champs-Elysées (1934), Jacques de Baroncelli's Michel Strogoff (1934) and Nitchevo (1936), and Jacques Deval's Club de femmes (1936).
   Delannoy began directing himself in the early 1930s. He assisted Deval on Club de femmes, and also assisted Felix Gandara on Tamara la complaisante (1937) as well as Le Paradis de Satan (1938). At about the same time, he began directing feature-length films on his own. Delannoy's early films include Macao, l'enfer dujeu (1939), Le Diamant noir (1940), Pontcarral, colonel d'empire (1942), and L'Assassin a peur la nuit (1942). These films are all fairly conventional, solid, but unremarkable.
   Delannoy's work came into its own when he directed L'Eternel retour (1943). A classic of French cinema, the film, which stars Jean Marais, is the story of a tragic love affair. With a powerful screenplay written by Jean Cocteau that replayed the Tristan and Isolde story, the film, in Delannoy's hands, became a modern myth onscreen. It launched Delannoy into the ranks of power directors. Delannoy went on to make Le Bossu (1944) and La Symphonie pastorale (1946), which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Other films from the 1940s include Les Jeux sont faits (1947), Le Secret de Mayerling (1948), and Aux yeux du souvenir (1949).
   While the 1940s probably mark the high point of Delannoy's career, his reputation as a first-rate director held into the 1950s. His most acclaimed film of that decade is undoubtedly Maigret tend une piège (1958), starring Jean Gabin. Probably the only other truly noteworthy film is Delannoy's adaptation of La Princesse de Clèves (1960). His other films from the 1950s and 1960s are more similar to his first films, fairly conventional and fairly unremarkable. These include La Route Napoléon (1953), Notre Dame de Paris (1956), Vénus impériale (1963), Les Amitiés particulières (1964), Le Majordome (1965), Le Soleil des voyous (1967), Bernadette (1988), La Passion de Bernadette (1989), and Marie de Nazareth (1995). Delannoy wrote the screenplays for a number of his films.
   On the whole, there are varying interpretations of Delannoy as a director. Some regard him as a once talented, artistic director who, in the latter half of his career, declined into producing second-rate films. Others who are more critical say that the vast majority of his films are unremarkable, and that only one, L'Eternel retour, really amounts to a great film. And even though there is general agreement on that point, there is disagreement as to whether the greatness of the film lies in the work of Cocteau, the work of Delannoy, or the work of the two together. In any case, Delannoy's peers and colleagues in the film industry considered that he had made a sufficiently significant contribution to French cinema to grant him an honorary César for Life-time Achievement in film in 1986.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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