He was the arc uniting the sacred texts of India and quantum physics, Octave Mirbeau and Milan Kundera, Borsalino and The King of Alder, Abbas Kiarostami and Peter Brook, Danton and Cyrano de Bergerac, Godard and Buñuel… He wrote some 70 films for cinema and a dozen for television, signed a dozen plays and as many adaptations for the theater, published around sixty books, film novelties, autobiographical story (The surly wine), love dictionaries, novels, essays …
A man of letters passionate about science, a rational thinker attracted to spirituality, an eternal joker full of gravity, an intellectual apt for lightness, Jean-Claude Carrière embodied the honest man in his modern sense. “The one who knows a little of everything about anything?” He quipped, more sensitive to the joys of friendly conversation than to honors (of which he had his share of Oscars, Caesars and others) and labels.
A true well of science, he had the elegance to pass off his interlocutor as a source of knowledge. He was practicing the art of Zen koan, asking those unanswered questions that the mind returns. “What is a day?” He asked Jean Audouze, the astrophysicist with whom he had written. Views on the visible. The latter replied: “A moment between one darkness and another”. The storyteller Carrière developed: “This is an old question that the Greeks and the Indians asked themselves. What appeared first: day or night? Day, they replied – but it only preceded night by one day ”…
Born in 1931, in Hérault, into a family of wine growers, Jean-Claude Carrière spoke Occitan until the age of 13. Degree in Letters, he publishes The lizard and a few food horror novels before signing for Jacques Tati the novelization of Monsieur Hulot’s vacation and of My uncle, illustrated by Pierre Etaix. Author of sketches and songs, he meets Luis Buñuel who is looking for a screenwriter to The Diary of a Chambermaid (1964). United by the bonds of surrealism, the two friends never leave each other, working together on six films, including Beautiful day and The Phantom of Liberty.
Along with the sarcastic rigor of Don Luis, Jean-Claude Carrière does not disdain popular cinema: he works on The swimming pool by Jacques Deray or Julie glue pot by Philippe de Broca. It was, however, great literature that magnetized and stimulated him. He adapts Günter Grass, Proust and Michel Tournier for Volker Schlöndorff (The drum, A Swan Love, The King of Alder), Milan Kundera for Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Choderlos de Laclos for Milos Forman (Valmont), Dostoyevsky for Wajda (The Possessed), Giono and of course Edmond Rostand for Jean-Paul Rappeneau (The Hussar on the Roof, Cyrano de Bergerac).
He also signs remarkable original scripts, based on historical events, such as The Valladolid controversy, which traces a 16th century religious debate over whether American Indians had a soul, or The Ghosts of Goya, which reflects contemporary fundamentalism through the Inquisition and the French Revolution. Some films are more successful than others, all bear the imprint of Jean-Claude Carrière, a mixture of erudition and humor.
At the end of the creation years, he caused a sensation with The mahabharata, the “heaviest poem in the world”, he said, 17 to 18 times larger than the Bible, directed and brought to the screen by Peter Brooks. The mad enterprise was not part of any “cultural mission”, explained the writer, but of an interest in “the beauty of the work. Peter Brook says very nicely that after twenty centuries of Eastern existence, the Mahabharata wanted to come west and he met us on his way ”.
He also noted that the West lives in an economic, political and cultural fortress: “For centuries, we have sold our Molière, Shakespeare, Picasso, Mozart, etc. extremely well abroad. But the Molières and Picassos of other cultures, we have very carefully kept them extramural. The Indians know our culture and we know nothing about theirs ”…
When we asked Jean-Claude Carrière where he found the time to carry out his countless activities, he said that it was enough to “do them slowly” … The wonderful storyteller has just been silent. He passed away peacefully, in his sleep. He leaves us a multifaceted and wonderful work. And intellectual bones to be gnawed again, such as this question: “Is concrete monotheistic?” He observed that every year concrete caused terrible floods and asked himself: “Does concrete repel water like monotheism heresies?”