French New Wave director Eric Rohmer, known for “My Night at Maud’s,” “Claire’s Knee,” and other films about the intricacies of romantic relationships and the dilemmas of modern love, died on Monday. He was 89.
Rohmer, also an influential film critic early in his career, died in Paris, said Les Films du Losange, the production company he co-founded. The cause of death was not immediately given.
The director — internationally known for his films’ long, philosophical conversations — continued to work until recently. His latest film, the 17th-century costume tale “Les amours d’Astree et de Celadon,” (“Romance of Astree and Celadon”), appeared in 2007.
In 2001, Rohmer was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his body of work — dozens of films made over a five-decade career.
Rohmer’s movies were full of romantic temptation and love triangles, pretty girls and handsome youths. Often they took a lighthearted, chatty form, with serious themes hidden under the surface.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to a “great auteur who will continue to speak to us and inspire us for years to come.”
“Classic and romantic, wise and iconoclast, light and serious, sentimental and moralist, he created the ’Rohmer’ style, which will outlive him,” Sarkozy said in a statement.
Six of Rohmer’s films comprised an influential cycle of “moral tales” that addressed the thorny questions of modern love: whether to compromise your beliefs in the face of passion, for example, or how to maintain a sense of individual freedom in a relationship.
In 1969’s “Ma nuit chez Maud” (“My Night at Maud’s”), a churchgoing young engineer played by Jean-Louis Trintignant must choose between a seductive divorcee and a woman who meets his ideals. The film’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.
France’s culture minister, Frederic Mitterrand, said Rohmer’s “very personal, very original” movies appealed to cinephiles and ordinary filmgoers alike.
Serge Toubiana — who heads the Cinematheque, France’s famous film preservation society — said Rohmer worked closely with his crews and described his creative process as a collaborative effort with the actors.
“He knew that he needed them and because of that he showered them with love,” Toubiana told France Info radio. “Each film was a kind of shared game, with its own rules in which each person played his role.”
Born in 1920 in the central French city of Tulle, Rohmer got his start as a literature professor and a film critic for the influential Cahiers du Cinema magazine, becoming its editor.
Though his name at birth was Maurice Scherer, he created his artistic pseudonym by rearranging the sounds in his first and last name to come up with Rohmer, he told Le Monde newspaper in 2007.
As a director, Rohmer became a leading force in France’s convention-smashing New Wave cinema, alongside directors Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, his colleagues at the Cahiers. With Claude Chabrol, another director, Rohmer published a classic study on one of their heroes, Alfred Hitchcock.
Along with his series of moral tales, Rohmer produced a cycle of modern-day relationship fables for each season of the year, and another dubbed the cycle of “comedies and proverbs,” with each film taking its inspiration from a proverb. One popular film in that series was 1983’s “Pauline a la plage” (“Pauline at the Beach”), focusing on a teenager on a seaside holiday.
Thierry Fremaux, who runs the Cannes Film Festival, told BFM television that though Rohmer’s films weren’t “trendy,” they were timeless.
“He proved that you can make great movies with small budgets,” Fremaux said. “And that’s good to keep in mind in the times we live in.”
Rohmer was a very private person, but his survivors are believed to include his younger brother, philosopher Rene Scherer, and his son journalist Rene Monzat.
Information on funeral arrangements was not immediately available.