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Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Claude Berri, director of Jean de Florette, dies at 74

French cinema is today mourning the death of Claude Berri, a towering figure within the industry for more than four decades. Berri, who scored an international hit with Jean de Florette in the mid-1980s, died on Monday of a suspected stroke. He was 74.

Although Berri started out as an actor, his greatest success would come from a position behind the camera. He won an Oscar for his debut short film, Le Poulet, in 1965 and was directing his 20th feature, Treasure, when he died. Producers said last night that the film would now be completed without him.

Berri's other films include Germinal, Lucie Aubrac and the astonishing double-bill of Jean de Florette and its sequel Manon des Sources, which helped make international stars of Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil and Emmanuelle Béart. A sweeping period tragedy, evocatively played out in rural Provence, Jean de Florette went on to win its creator the best film Bafta of 1987.

Berri also produced upwards of 50 feature films, including Roman Polanski's Tess, La Reine Margot and lucrative instalments of the Asterix & Obelix franchise. Last year he scored two major successes – producing both the comedy blockbuster Welcome to the Sticks (Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis) and the award-winning drama Couscous.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to Berri yesterday, hailing him as "the most legendary figure of French cinema" and adding that "all who knew or approached him are now in mourning". Gilles Jacob, president of the Cannes film festival, was more succinct: "French cinema is now an orphan," he said.

Source: The Guardian

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