Claude Autant-Lara (1903-2000)
Claude Autant-Lara, (born August 5, 1903, Luzarches, France—died February 5, 2000, Antibes), French motion-picture director who won an international reputation with his film Le Diable au corps (1947; Devil in the Flesh).
Autant-Lara’s mother, an ardent pacifist, lived with her son in England during World War I. After several years of schooling in London he returned to France to study art. At 16 years of age he painted the sets for Marcel L’Herbier’s film Le Carnaval des vérités (1919; “Carnival of Truths”) and assisted Jean Renoir and other directors as a set decorator and costume designer.
Autant-Lara’s first short film, Faits divers (1923; “Diverse Facts”), was made while he was an assistant director to René Clair. After directing two other brief films, he accepted a job in Hollywood directing French versions of American films. It was not until 1933, however, that he directed his first feature film, Ciboulette. Two films that Autant-Lara completed in 1942—Le Mariage de Chiffon and Lettres d’amour—prefigured his work in Le Diable au corps and strengthened his standing as one of the major exponents of the French cinema’s “tradition of quality.” Adapted from a novel by Raymond Radiguet, Le Diable au corps is the story of an adolescent boy’s affair with a married woman whose husband is a soldier. Both its subject matter and its antiwar, antiestablishment sentiments made it Autant-Lara’s most popular film.
With the advent of the French New Wave in the 1950s, Autant-Lara’s preference for literary adaptations and his emphasis on psychological realism, tight scripting, and carefully delivered dialogue fell out of fashion. He nonetheless continued to make motion pictures, directing his last film, Gloria, in 1977. In the late 1980s he again stirred controversy, this time in the world of politics. He became a member of the far-right National Front and was elected to the European Parliament in 1989. That same year, after a magazine quoted several of his anti-Semitic remarks, he resigned his seat.