Born in 1922 in Vannes, Brittany, Alain Resnais' early education was often interrupted by chronic asthma, allowing voluminous reading, from pulps to Proust, and beginning his lifelong passion for comic strips. Later, Resnais joined the Pitoëff theater company and studied at the famed IDHEC film school. The 35mm remake of Van Gogh won both a prize at Venice and an Oscar for Best Documentary Short. Resnais won the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo for Night and Fog (1955), one of the first films to confront the horrors of the Holocaust.
Commissioned to make a documentary on the atomic bomb, he proposed an alternative: a fictional feature film to be written by novelist Marguerite Duras, a cinema neophyte. Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) proved a worldwide, award-winning box office hit. Resnais’ follow-up film, Last Year at Marienbad, a collaboration with another French novelist, Alain Robbe-Grillet, enjoyed similar laudatory attention. Muriel (1963), La Guerre est finie (1966), and Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968) followed and six years of financing problems for Resnais ensued after Je t'aime's tepid box office performance.. He returned with Stavisky (1974), the saga of legendary 1930s con man Serge Alexandre, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and with music by Stephen Sondheim. Resnais’ most straightforward work, it was his greatest box-office success. Providence (1977), his first English-language film, practically swept the then-new César awards.
Mon oncle d’Amérique (1980), La vie est un roman (1983), L'Amour à mort (1984), Mélo (1986), and I Want to Go Home (1989) rounded out Resnais' '80s productions. The two-part Smoking/No Smoking (1993) was a tour de farce and won five Césars. Same Old Song (On connaît la chanson, 1997) continued in this vein and won eight César awards. Resnais was 75 at the time of this 1997 triumph; a good time to hang up the viewfinder?
But six years later, he went even further. With Not on the Mouth (Pas sur la bouche, 2003), he adapted a 1925 don’t-let-rich-hubbie-know-it’s-bigamy operetta into a lighter than a soufflé divertissement packed with songs and dazzling period décor. And in 2006, at the age of 84, he made Coeurs, featuring six characters searching for love amid extremely limited, stylized settings. He followed up with two more films, Wild Grass (2009) and You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (2012). Resnais’ final film, Life of Riley, screened at the Berlin Film Festival just prior to his death on March 1, 2014 at age 91.
Over the years, Resnais became one of the most honored of French directors. Of the thirteen films he made since the inception of the César Awards, eight were nominated for Best Director (with two wins), eight for Best Film (with three wins), and the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics gave him their prize for Best Film eight times. He received a lifetime achievement award for his work and exceptional contribution to the history of cinema at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
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