Paul Vecchiali, a great man of cinema has just left us

Disappearance of one of the most important French filmmakers of his generation.

Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Marie Straub, Paul Vecchiali... A generation of great French filmmakers disappeared in just a few months. We can, small consolation, boast of having been their contemporary.
For sixty years, filmmaker and producer Paul Vecchiali was a key figure in French cinema. He had crossed paths with the New Wave, rubbing shoulders with Jacques Demy, Jean Eustache (close friends), and Godard, who always supported him. And produced a good part of the most ambitious cinema of the 1970s and 1980s.

Born in 1930 in Ajaccio, a former student of the École polytechnique, Vecchiali had first been an often iconoclastic editor for Cinema notebooks in the 1960s (he was happy to tease Robert Bresson, whom he nevertheless liked very much).

His first films The Little Dramas in 1961 with his favorite actress Danielle Darrieux (whom he shot again, much later, in the magnificent At the top of the stairs) and Devil’s Tricks in 1965, had been immediately greeted by François Truffaut, who had seen in him the only “heir of Jean Renoir”. Vecchiali, who had a hard tooth, let’s say it, was often less tender with the cinema of Renoir and Truffaut.


Then he became an important figure in French independent cinema by founding the now legendary production company Diagonale in 1976, which enabled filmmakers such as Jean-Claude Biette, Jean-Claude Guiguet, Marie-Claude Treilhou, Claudine Bories , Noël Simsolo, later Gérard Frot-Coutaz, Jacques Davila and Tonie Marshall to direct. He had even been one of the executive producers of Jeanne Dielmanthe film by Chantal Akerman considered today as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema.

A great fan of French cinema of the 1930s for its originality, Paul Vecchiali devoted to it, in 2010, a vast Encineclopedia in two volumes: he loved above all Jean Grémillon and Max Ophüls, then Julien Duvivier, Victor Tourjanski, and lesser-known directors like Louis Valray, André Hugon or René Guissart.

But Paul Vecchiali was above all an original filmmaker, free, ahead of his time on questions of sexuality, something very rare among filmmakers of his generation: he had made a very beautiful film in 1975 with non-simulated sex scenes. , Don’t change hands, where he filmed in an icononoclastic lack of differentiation between homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality. Previously he had turned The Stranglerwhere Jacques Perrin played the most negative role of his filmography, that of a psychopathic killer.

He directed some of the most audacious and lyrical films of French cinema: body to heart (1978), Once More (1988) and especially his absolute masterpiece, Women Women (1974), which Pier Paolo Pasolini had adored (even turning the two main actresses, Hélène Surgère and Sonia Saviange – Vecchiali’s sister – in his last film, Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom). In a Parisian apartment, two middle-aged actresses play comedy all day long. Their dreams aloud behind closed doors open onto an infinite poetic space, an imaginary labyrinth where theater and life reach a magical point of coalescence.

In 1986, he directed Marianne Basler for the first time in Rosa the rose, public girl, a superb musical comedy. He also worked for television, directing erotic shorts and even episodes of the television series Imogenwith Dominique Lavanant… Vecchiali was never where we expected him to be.

His films had gradually become confidential for twenty years, produced with increasingly modest means. Even if he continued to shoot outstanding, very singular actors, like Jean-Christophe Bouvet (already brilliant in The machinea film against the death penalty, shot in 1977), the great Françoise Lebrun (the “whore” of The Mom and the Whore d’Eustache) or the brilliant Pascal Cervo (also seen at Laurent Achard and Pierre Léon), Astrid Adverbe, etc…

In 2020, he had made one of his finest films, A hint of love, one of the most accomplished of his profuse filmography (more than fifty works for cinema or television). He found there in the main roles three magnificent and faithful actors: Marianne Basler, Jean-Philippe Puymartin (all in hardness) and Fabienne Babe.

I had interviewed him twice: the first in Paris in 2015, where he appeared to me to be fragile, tired, a little bitter. The second, memorable, in August 2020, by telephone (he lived in the south of France and we were between two confinements), revealed to me a completely different person: a young man with a lively and impressive morale and intellect, both mischievous and uncompromising, full of projects. He then prepared what became his latest film: Show no mercy. A bright, happy, hopeful memory.

Paul Vecchiali, a great man of cinema has just left us – Les Inrocks