BiographyBoulogne-Billancourt, Hauts-de-Seine, France
Michel Deville, a singular talent in French cinema. For, except during a short period where he made two or three standard commercial films (but that was to repay the debts of his own film company, due to the defection of a business partner), Deville made pictures which, without being too elitist, show a distinctive talent and personality. The French director-writer-producer managed, all through a career that spanned four decades and a half (from 1958 to 2005), to play a little music of his own, never resting on his laurels but always trying something new. Read more... are perfect, Deville's taste for research makes the bulk of them at least interesting or challenging. Born on 13 April 1931 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Michel Deville graduated from high school and started studying literature but soon branched out into movies. From 1951 to 1958, he learned the tricks of his future trade by being assistant-director, mainly to Henri Decoin, with whom he collaborated thirteen times, notably on two important films, La vérité sur Bébé Donge (1952) in 1951 and Razzia (1955) in 1952. After a false start in 1958 (A Bullet in the Gun Barrel (1958), a run-of-the-mill crime flick, co-directed by Charles Gérard), Deville succeeded in making a name for himself two years later with his first true film Ce soir ou jamais (1961). Film critics did not miss out on the already gray-haired thirty-year-old director as they immediately identified what made his specificity : telling about love, seduction and feelings with subtle casualness and quizzing cruelty. For the ten years that followed, working in tandem with screenwriter Nina Companeez, Deville made a series of allegedly "light-hearted" comedies, surely full of charm and elegance but whose froth soon evaporates to reveal unexpected gravity. The result can range from slightly superficial (L'appartement des filles (1963), The Bear and the Doll (1970)) to genuinely moving (Adorable menteuse (1962)) to profoundly tragic (The Diary of an Innocent Boy (1968), a cruel tale about desire, love and the difficulty to love; Raphaël ou le débauché (1971), one of the most beautiful romantic films ever made). After ceasing his collaboration with Companeez, Deville's films became darker and darker, the director choosing to explore new forms of expression (narrative deconstruction in La femme en bleu (1973)); the use of subjective camera and long sequence shots in Dossier 51 (1978), etc.) as well as new themes such as disillusionment, impossible dreams and imagination as a way of survival. In the nineteen eighties Deville is at the top of his art. Le voyage en douce (1980), Eaux profondes (1981), Les capricieux (1984) (TV movie) and Peril (1985) examine the forms and variations of the loving feeling with consummate mastery while Le paltoquet (1986) and La lectrice (1988) are two fascinating forays into the territory of sheer imagination. As of 1990, the director's art somewhat declined. Films like Toutes peines confondues (1992), La divine poursuite (1997) and Un fil à la patte (2005), his final effort in 2005, more or less run on empty. But there are two magnificent exceptions to that rule: Aux petits bonheurs (1994) (1993), the elegant bittersweet chronicle of love being threatened by the coming of old age, and La maladie de Sachs (1999) (1999), a brilliant adaptation of Martin Winckler's novel, consisting of brief loosely related scenes, considered impossible to move onto the screens. An excellent technician and theoretician, Deville also established himself as a great actors director. All noticed how good he was - not unlike George Cukor - at directing women. Indeed Anna Karina, Marina Vlady, Michèle Morgan, Brigitte Bardot, Françoise Fabian, Lea Massari, Anémone, Miou-Miou, Fanny Ardant, Zabou Breitman and several others, did shine before his loving camera. But this does not mean that their male counterparts had anything to complain about when directed by him. Thanks to Michel Deville Claude Rich, Michel Piccoli, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Maurice Ronet, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Christophe Malavoy, Richard Bohringer, Claude Piéplu, Jean Yanne, Daniel Auteuil and many others naturally, also found gratifying and memorable roles. When Michel Deville decided to retire in 2005, he could do it with a clear conscience: he sure left his mark on the seventh art and even if his name is a little forgotten today, film historians will no doubt recognize his true worth some day in the future.