Claude Autant-Lara (French: [otɑ̃ laʁa]; 5 August 1901 – 5 February 2000) was a French film director, screenwriter, set designer and costume designer who worked in films for over 50 years. His career was frequently marked by controversy, and in his late 80s he was elected to the European Parliament as a member for the far-right French National Front.
5 August 1901
Luzarches, Val-d'Oise, France
|Died||5 February 2000 (aged 98)|
|Political party||National Front|
|Member of the European Parliament|
20 July 1989 – September 1989
|Succeeded by||Jean-Claude Martinez|
Claude Autant-Lara was born on 5 August 1901 at Luzarches in Val-d'Oise. Édouard Autant, his father, was an architect, and his mother, Louise Lara, was an actress from the Comédie-Française. They were founders of the cultural group "Art et Action", which gave their son an early introduction to the theatre. During World War I his mother's pacifist activities brought her such unpopularity that she went into self-exile in London. Claude accompanied her and continued his education for two years at Mill Hill School in north London. On his return to France he studied at the École des beaux-arts and the École des arts décoratifs in Paris.
In 1919 Autant-Lara (at the age of 18) was employed by the filmmaker Marcel L'Herbier as a set designer for Le Carnaval des vérités. L'Herbier continued to engage him for set and costume design on subsequent productions and in 1923 he gave him the opportunity to direct his first short film, Fait-divers, a "film without subtitles for three characters" which featured Louise Lara and Antonin Artaud. Autant-Lara also worked for other leading filmmakers, as assistant director for René Clair, and as costume designer for Jean Renoir on his lavish production of Nana (1926), in which he also acted. In 1927–28 he directed another short experimental film called Construire un feu, based on To Build a Fire by Jack London, for which he used for the first time the hypergonar, an anamorphic optical system to produce widescreen images invented by Henri Chrétien. (The process was not employed again, but in 1952 20th Century Fox purchased Chrétien's device and developed from it the CinemaScope format.)
Disheartened by the failure of this venture and in need of money, Autant-Lara went to Hollywood in 1930 where he found work making French versions of American comedies, including two featuring Buster Keaton. He did not adapt well to the American way of life and after two years he returned to France. There his first opportunity to direct a feature film came in 1933 with Ciboulette, an adaptation of the operetta by Reynaldo Hahn for which Jacques Prévert collaborated on the script. Controversy arose when one the work's original librettists objected publicly to some irreverent alterations which the filmmakers had made, and when the producers cut and re-edited the film, Autant-Lara disowned it. For nearly a decade after this, his work was mainly confined to co-directing films, notably with the producer Maurice Lehmann, but he was often uncredited. 
During the German occupation of France in World War II, Autant-Lara (now over 40) finally found opportunities to direct films in his own name, and he began a long collaboration with the screenwriter Jean Aurenche (subsequently in partnership with Pierre Bost). He made three successful films in the period 1942-1944, all of them costume dramas which still carried echoes of the present day. The third of them, Douce, contained bitter portrayals of a bourgeois family and of religion, earning severe disapproval from the influential Centrale Catholique du Cinéma.
After the war he had an international success with Le Diable au corps, based on the controversial novel of 1923 by Raymond Radiguet. The film's portrayal of a schoolboy's adulterous affair during WWI caused fresh scandal in France and consolidated Autant-Lara's reputation for challenging the prevailing moral order.
Over the next decade Autant-Lara had his most successful period with a number of commercial successes, many of them being adaptations of literary works with period settings, including Occupe-toi d'Amélie (Feydeau) in 1949, Le Blé en herbe (Colette) and Le Rouge et le Noir (Stendhal), both in 1954. This habit of relying on literary scripts and plots made Autant-Lara (and his regular screenwriters Aurenche and Bost) the target of sharp criticism by the young François Truffaut in his influential attack on the "tradition de qualité" which he saw as stifling originality in French cinema. As the ideas of the New Wave gathered strength, the subsequent films of Autant-Lara began to seem increasingly outdated.
Nevertheless, his 1956 film La Traversée de Paris, which was among the first to take an unheroic view of the German occupation of France and the operation of the black market, was a notable success both with audiences and with critics (including Truffaut). In other films Autant-Lara continued to address sensitive or unpopular subjects, such as conscientious objection in Tu ne tueras point (1961), and abortion in Journal d'une femme en blanc (1965) and Nouveau journal d'une femme en blanc (1966). Other later films however were perceived as expressing an "aggressive vulgarity" and a kind of "poujadism which confirmed his drift into sneering populism". He became increasingly bitter towards his critics and the producers who were reluctant to finance his films, and his final film Gloria (1977) was largely ignored. Instead of further film-making, he turned to writing and produced a series of polemical books in which he settled scores with his opponents. The tone of these was conveyed in the title of his volume of memoirs, La Rage dans le cœur ("the rage in the heart").
Political engagement and last yearsEdit
Often outspoken and provocative, Autant-Lara was for much of his career associated with leftist and anti-establishment views. In his professional life he was extensively engaged in defending the cinema and he undertook intense union activity with the Fédération Nationale du Spectacle (President 1957-67), dealing with working conditions for different sections of the profession and their collective agreements, production contracts with other countries, and relations with the political authorities. He repeatedly challenged the rules on censorship, and he was admired for the positive roles for women which his films often gave.
After the damaging attacks on him by a younger generation of critics and filmmakers, and the production difficulties of his later films, he showed a growing readiness to blame the decadence of "the left" and its affiliation to a "Jewish conspiracy" for his problems. By the late 1980s he had joined the far-right National Front led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, and in June 1989, at the age of 87, he was elected to the European Parliament as a National Front MEP. At the opening session of the Parliament in July, following the tradition that the oldest elected member should take the president's chair for the initial proceedings, Autant-Lara used the opportunity to make a strongly anti-American speech, and a large number of other MEPs, including the Socialists and Christian Democrats, walked out of the chamber in protest. In September 1989 the monthly magazine Globe published an interview with Autant-Lara in which he made offensive and anti-semitic statements, particularly directed at Simone Veil, a former president of the European Parliament and a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He accused her of exploiting her experiences of the Nazi camps to gather sympathy for herself, and he went on to cast doubt on the accepted facts about the Holocaust.
In the considerable scandal which arose after publication of these remarks, he was forced to resign his seat in the Parliament. He was also excluded from the Académie des Beaux-Arts, of which he was a vice-president, when its members voted to prohibit him from taking his seat.
Thereafter he lived quietly in the south of France and he died in Antibes on 5 February 2000 at the age of 98. He was buried in the cemetery of Montmartre (section 26) in Paris.
Autant married Odette Massonnet in 1926 (divorced 1935). He later married Ghislaine Auboin (1915-1967), who worked as an assistant director on many of his films from 1942 onwards.
- 1923 : Fait Divers (experimental short film)
- 1926-1932 : [Several shorts and medium-length films]
- 1931 : Buster se marie (French version of Buster Keaton film Parlor, Bedroom and Bath) [co-directed with Edward Brophy]
- 1932 : Le Plombier amoureux (French version of The Passionate Plumber with Buster Keaton)
- 1932 : L'Athlète incomplet (French version of Local Boy Makes Good)
- 1933 : Ciboulette; (film version of the operetta Ciboulette)
- 1937 : L'Affaire du courrier de Lyon (The Courier of Lyon) [co-directed with Maurice Lehmann]
- 1938 : Le Ruisseau [co-directed with Maurice Lehmann]
- 1939 : Fric-Frac [co-directed with Maurice Lehmann]
- 1939 : The Mysterious Mr. Davis [in English]
- 1942 : Le Mariage de Chiffon
- 1942 : Lettres d'amour
- 1943 : Douce (Love Story)
- 1946 : Sylvie et le Fantôme (Sylvie and the Ghost)
- 1947 : Le Diable au corps (Devil in the Flesh)
- 1949 : Occupe-toi d'Amélie (Keep an Eye on Amelia)
- 1951 : L'Auberge rouge (The Red Inn) [also screenwriter]
- 1952 : Les Sept Péchés capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins; segment "L'Orgueil/Pride") [also screenwriter]
- 1953 : Le Bon Dieu sans confession (Good Lord Without Confession) [also screenwriter]
- 1954 : Le Blé en herbe (The Game of Love)
- 1954 : Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black )
- 1955 : Marguerite de la nuit (Marguerite of the Night)
- 1956 : La Traversée de Paris (Four Bags Full)
- 1958 : Le Joueur (The Gambler)
- 1959 : En cas de malheur (Love Is My Profession)
- 1959 : La Jument verte (The Green Mare)
- 1960 : Les Régates de San Francisco (The Regattas of San Francisco)
- 1960 : Le Bois des amants (Between Love and Duty)
- 1961 : Tu ne tueras point (Thou Shalt Not Kill)
- 1961 : Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (The Story of the Count of Monte Cristo)
- 1961 : Vive Henri IV... vive l'amour!
- 1963 : Le Meurtrier (Enough Rope)
- 1964 : Le Magot de Josefa (Josefa's Loot)
- 1965 : Humour noir (Black Humor; segment "La Bestiole")
- 1965 : Journal d'une femme en blanc (A Woman in White)
- 1966 : Nouveau journal d'une femme en blanc
- 1967 : Le Plus Vieux Métier du monde (The Oldest Profession; segment "Aujourd'hui")
- 1967 : Le Franciscain de Bourges
- 1969 : Les Patates
- 1973-74 : Lucien Leuwen (TV mini-series based on novel by Stendhal)
- 1977 : Gloria
Publications by Autant-LaraEdit
- 1981 : Télémafia. Nice : A. Lefeuvre, 1981. ISBN 2-902639-63-5.
- 1984 : La Rage dans le cœur. [Paris] : H. Veyrier, 1984. ISBN 2-85199-322-4. (Chronique cinématographique du 20e siècle )
- 1985 : Hollywood Cake-Walk 1930-1932. Paris : H. Veyrier, 1985. ISBN 2-85199-353-4. (Chronique cinématographique du 20e siècle )
- 1987 : Les Fourgons du malheur. Paris : Carrère, 1987. ISBN 2-86804-443-3. (Chronique cinématographique du 20e siècle )
- 1989 : Le Bateau coule : discours de réception à l'Académie des Beaux-arts. Paris: Libertés, 1989. ISBN 2-903279-14-4.
- 1990 : Le Coq et le Rat: chronique cinématographique du XXe siècle. Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne: Ed. le Flambeau, 1990. ISBN 2-908040-03-4. (In merdam salutis, 1)
- ^ Some older reference works give his date of birth as 1903, but a copy of his birth certificate held by the Cinémathèque Suisse confirms that it was 1901: Bulletin de naissance, Cinémathèque suisse. Fonds CSL 005 - Fonds Claude Autant-Lara. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
- ^ a b c Joël Magny, "Autant-Lara, Claude (1901–2000)", in Encyclopædia Universalis (online). Retrieved 27 December 2022.
- ^ a b c Jean-Loup Passek [editor], Dictionnaire du cinéma français. Paris: Larousse, 1987. pp. 21–22.
- ^ Philippe Rège, Encyclopedia of French Film Directors. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010. pp. 39–40.
- ^ Jaque Catelain, Jaque Catelain présente Marcel L'Herbier. Paris: Vautrain, 1950. p. 41.
- ^ Cinémathèque Française, Costume design for "Nana" (Renoir, 1925) by Claude Autant-Lara. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
- ^ "Claude Autant-Lara" in 1895, no. 33, 2001 (Dictionnaire du cinéma français des années vingt). Retrieved 29 December 2022.
- ^ a b c Claude Autant-Lara: notice biographique, Cinémathèque suisse. Fonds CSL 005 - Fonds Claude Autant-Lara. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
- ^ Jean-Pierre Jeancolas, 15 ans d'années trente: le cinéma des français 1929-1944. Paris: Stock, 1983. pp. 338-340.
- ^ Jacques Siclier, La France de Pétain et son cinéma. Paris: Henri Veyrier, 1981. p. 453.
- ^ a b Dictionnaire du cinéma populaire français; sous la direction de Christian-Marc Bosséno et Yannick Dehée. Paris: Nouveau Monde, 2004. pp. 48, 293.
- ^ François Truffaut, "Une certaine tendance du cinéma français", in Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 31, January 1954.
- ^ a b "Claude Autant-Lara [obituary]", in The Times (London), 7 February 2000, p. 19.
- ^ a b Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire du cinéma: les réalisateurs. Paris: Robert Laffont, 1992. p. 42.
- ^ "Claude Autant-Lara" at Première.fr. Retrieved 4 January 2023. Archived at the Wayback Machine.
- ^ Ephraim Katz, International Film Encyclopedia. London: Macmillan, 1980. p. 60.
- ^ Bertrand Tavernier, Interview with Jean Ollé-Laprune accompanying Le Voyage à travers le cinéma français, le série (DVD, Gaumont 2018).
- ^ a b Ronald Bergan, "'Claude Autant-Lara, obituary" in The Guardian, 7 February 2000. Retrieved 5 January 2023. Archived at the Wayback Machine.
- ^ Michel Guilloux,"La deuxième mort de Claude Autant-Lara", in L'Humanité, 7 Février 2000. Retrieved 8 January 2023.
- ^ "Socialist push for EC charter", in The Times (London), 26 July 1989, p.7.
- ^ "Anti-Semite resigns", in The Times (London), 9 September 1989. p.8.
- ^ Ronald Bergan, "'Claude Autant-Lara, obituary" in The Guardian, 7 February 2000: [Autant-Lara] told the left-wing magazine Globe: "She plays the violin about that. When I hear talk of genocide, I reply, 'Well, they missed old Weil.' Whether you like it or not, she is from an ethnic group that is political and tries to take root and dominate." Retrieved 5 January 2023. Archived at the Wayback Machine.
- ^ "Dans le mensuel "Globe" les propos antisémites de M. Claude Autant-Lara député européen (FN)", in Le Monde, 8 septembre 1989: Comme Globe lui demande s'il est "pour le révisionnisme", il répond : "Oui, évidemment. Quand on regarde les choses d'un peu près, on voit bien qu'on est bourré d'histoires, de mensonges... Auschwitz... Le génocide, on n'en sait trop rien. Le prétendu génocide... Personne ne parle du génocide des Indiens par les Américains. N'est pas génocide qui veut !" (Asked by the Globe whether he is "in favour of revisionism", he replies, "Yes, of course. When we look at things closely, we see clearly that we are stuffed with stories, with lies... Auschwitz... The genocide, we don't know too much about it. The so-called genocide... Nobody talks about the genocide of the Indians by the Americans. It's not genocide just if you want it to be!") Retrieved 5 January 2023. Archived at Wikiwix.
- ^ Archives de Paris (online). 1926. Mariages. 11e arrondissement. no. 2757 (vue 25/31). (Includes note of the divorce.) Retrieved 22 December 2022.
- ^ Autant-Lara, Ghislaine: notice de personne in the Catalogue général of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Retrieved 8 January 2023.