We'll never know what he would have thought of it. Michel Ciment, who died Monday November 13 at the age of 85, was not able to see Ridley Scott's Napoleon. At the end of the screening, on the Champs-Élysées, he would have mentioned Guitry and Abel Gance, and would have spoken in the wake of Bondartchouk and Raymond Pellegrin. Ciment knew everything (about cinema, he even knew the rest). We will miss his comments.
This former Condorcet high school student suffered from cultural bulimia. Everything interested him. He was capable of crossing France to visit a museum, going out of his way to obtain an invitation to the opening of an exhibition. He was often seen at the theater. His leather briefcase was stuffed with books. But cinema, which summed up all the other arts, was his passion. The lights went out and for him it was a miracle that would repeat itself forever. He didn't have a driver's license, which made him a cripple in Los Angeles. This did not prevent him from traveling through the works.
Greedy for everything and fooled by nothing, he had been a lecturer at Paris 7 where he taught English and American civilization. Civilized is the word that comes to mind. Ciment, behind his large glasses, was an honest, old-fashioned man. Resistant to fashion, the New Wave did not impress him that much. To Godard and co., he preferred Alain Resnais to whom he devoted a volume. Directing the magazine Positif allowed him to satisfy his appetite for celluloid. He will have experienced the end of an era, the tail of the comet.
Meeting Billy Wilder was obvious to him. Dialogue with Kazan or Losey made sense. Being hosted for a week at Coppola's house satisfied his thirst for information. His interviews with directors should be placed in a good place in libraries. He was one of the rare journalists to maintain an ongoing conversation with the very secretive Stanley Kubrick. The author of 2001 had never disappointed him.
This encyclopedist in a tweed jacket was following the career of John Boorman. He highly praised the films of Jane Campion and had the incredible privilege of spending time with the elusive Terrence Malick. His references went back to the silent era. That didn't stop him from mischievously throwing in the worst puns. The listeners of Le Masque and the pen of which he was the amused and fraternal elder know something of this. His voice will no longer resonate on the stage of the Alliance Française. It was he who invented the famous expression “the Bermuda triangle” which brought together Libération, Les Cahiers du cinéma and Les Inrocks, Télérama sometimes entering into the dance and making geometry lie. He revered Clint Eastwood, defended Woody Allen fiercely, saluted Konchalovsky.
On the French side, Sautet, Rappeneau, Brizé were in favor. His freedom pushed him to support Gainsbourg behind the camera. Obviously, the most prestigious festivals welcomed him to their jury. He loved the smell of film in the early morning. Last May on the Croisette, he raved about The Abduction of Marco Bellocchio, praised Nuri Bilge Ceylan whom he compared to a Russian novelist, and was full of praise for The Dead Leaves of Kaurismaki. Cinema was his sesame, going in search of beauty. He often found her being the opposite of jaded. He enthusiastically recommended a title by Emmanuel Carrère, the first articles of which he had published, and read memoirs of foreign filmmakers in original version. The illness did not succeed in taking away his favorites, his shrugs, his quotes. Michel left before the end, which he never did in a room. Winter is starting early this year. Without it, movies will look like they're all black and white.