'Cyrano' and 'Tin Drum' screenwriter Carriere dies at 89

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'Cyrano' and 'Tin Drum' screenwriter Carriere dies at 89
In this file photo taken on October 16, 2014 French writer and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere poses after being awarded the medal of Commander of the National Order of Merit (Ordre National du Merite) by the French Culture minister in Paris. Jean-Claude Carriere passed away aged 89, AFP reports on February 8, 2021. PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP.

by Emilie Bickerton / Fiachra Gibbons

PARIS (AFP).- Legendary French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, who penned some of the most memorable movies of the last half century including "The Tin Drum" and "Cyrano de Bergerac", has died at the age of 89, his daughter told AFP.

Carriere, best known for his work with Luis Bunuel and Milos Forman, died in his sleep late Monday at his home in Paris, said Kiara Carriere.

A prolific writer whose career spanned six decades, Carriere created some of the most memorable and provocative scenes in European cinema, including tying a young Catherine Deneuve naked to a tree.

"Belle de Jour" was one of the fruits of his 19-year collaboration with the subversive Spanish director Luis Bunuel, who revelled in shocking audiences.

The pair won an Oscar in 1972 for "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise", adding to the Oscar Carriere had won in 1963 for best short film.

'Radically atheist'

Carriere's work ranged across cultures, religions and historical periods, from "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1990) -- for which Gerard Depardieu gave one of the performances of his career -- to Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988) with Daniel Day-Lewis, to writing a book with the Dalai Lama.

Even though he described himself as "radically atheist", he was fascinated by philosophy and belief and wrote about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity.

His most famous novel, the "Valladolid Debate", also embraced morality and colonialism, recounting how the Spanish conquerers of the New World argued over how its indigenous people should be treated.

In between winning another Oscar and the Palme d'Or at Cannes for his adaption of Gunter Grass's novel "The Tin Drum", he also translated Persian poetry wife his wife, the Iranian writer Nahal Tajadod.

He was also nominated for another Oscar for his screenplay for "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and won a French Cesar in 1983 for the haunting "The Return of Martin Guerre", starring Depardieu.

'The boss'

Although Carriere regarded himself as a simple storyteller, he also enjoyed frequent appearances in front of the camera, with roles opposite Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau.

Given the breath of his work, when he was given an honorary Oscar in 2014 it was not just for his 80 or so screenplays but also his books of essays, fiction, translations and interviews.

One of his final films, "At Eternity's Gate" about the artist Vincent Van Gogh's final months, was nominated for another, with Carriere determined to prove that the painter did not kill himself.

The Cannes film festival's former president Gilles Jacob led the tributes, praising his "phenomenal humanity and learning" and saying that Carriere was France's finest screenwriter ever.

"You were the boss," he added.

'I have no ego'

Born on September 17, 1931 into a family of winegrowers in the South of France, his parents moved near Paris in 1945 to open a cafe.

A star pupil, Carriere went on to study at one of France's elite Grandes Ecoles. By 26, he had written his first novel.

He said he enjoyed being at the service of a director and slipping into their way of thinking.

"I have no ego," he once said.

He put down his success to chance "meetings, friendships and life teachers" from the Dalai Lama to the great surrealist Bunuel, whose work he never tired to champion even as it fell out of fashion.

One key encounter was with acclaimed British director Peter Brook with whom he adapted the Sanskrit Hindu epic the "Mahabharata" for the stage and screen.

When its play version was performed at the Avignon festival in 1985, it ran for nine hours to an astonished crowd.

"Watching it, forgetting I was the one who wrote it, was one of the great joys in my life," Carriere said.

Despite the coronavirus restrictions, a tribute will be held for him in Paris, his daughter said, and he will be buried in his native village in Colombieres-sur-Orb near Beziers.

© Agence France-Presse

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