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Why Does the Name Claude Berri Make Martin Scorsese Smile?

Bonjour and buenos dias, Monty Cristo here.

On the Golden Globes telecast the other night, Thomas Langmann (one of the producers of THE ARTIST) was giving an acceptance speech. He got very emotional when speaking about his father, and just at that moment, the camera cut away to the great Martin Scorsese.

The mention of the name "Claude Berri" (Langmann's dad) drew a warm smile across Scorsese's face. No one should ever forget that Scorsese is, first and foremost, a film geek of the highest order. Langmann wished that his father could have survived to see THE ARTIST and its success.


He told the story of how Berri's short film LE POULET was nominated for the Oscar in 1966, and how the young director could not afford the trip to the Hollywood ceremony where the film would go on to win.

It was a very touching moment, and I felt the need to write this rather delayed eulogy of Claude Berri for my fellow geeks who may not be very familiar with his work.

Berri produced many more films than he directed, including THE BEAR, which is the one most familiar to American audiences.

I'm getting ahead of myself.

Claude Berri started as an actor.


One of his earliest film roles was an uncredited part in legendary director Jean Renoir's FRENCH CANCAN. A few years later, he would appear in the film adaptation of a well-known French novel called I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (not the rape horror film or anything to do with it). The author of the novel disowned the movie before its release, and actually died in the theater during its preview screening.

He played in movies for Claude Chabrol, including LES BONNES FEMMES (THE GOOD TIME GIRLS, available from Kino on DVD in the States).  He worked with the brilliant Henri-Georges Clouzot (WAGES OF FEAR). He acted in a movie whose title was translated to MY BABY IS BLACK! He worked with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and Omar Sharif in Fred Zinneman's BEHOLD A PALE HORSE.

Then he did THE SLEEPING CAR MURDER with Costa-Gavras (Z), where he acted alongside Jacques Perrin (Cinema Paradiso, Brotherhood of the Wolf) and the stunning Simone Signoret (DIABOLIQUE) , as well as Michel Piccoli (BELLE DE JOUR) and Yves Montand (WAGES OF FEAR), among various other big names. In most of the films I've noted here, he performed uncredited as a porter or other tiny, blink-and-you-miss-it role. He had bigger dreams.

Then he decided he wanted to become a director. One of his first shorts won an Oscar that he couldn't afford to fly over an accept (as mentioned above).

No less than The Criterion Collection added his first feature to their illustrious curation just a few years ago.


THE TWO OF US (LE VIEIL HOMME ET L'ENFANT) tells the story of a young Jewish boy during the Nazi occupation of France. His parents send him to live with an older couple in the country. The boy and the old man hit it off, but the old man is an anti-Semite. It's a great movie, and the scenario is drawn from Berri's childhood experiences as a Jewish child in WWII France.

The DVD is full of some great extras, including Berri's Oscar-winning short, LE POULET. I've gotten to the point where I resist buying DVD's in anticipation of Blu-ray upgrades, but I just ordered it on impulse. No better day to watch it than a couple days from now, when Amazon Prime can deliver it.

Two of Berri's producing efforts, LE ENFANCE NEUE and the masterful THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN) are also available from Criterion, and are highly recommended.

His directing career led to producing as well, and he not only began producing his own films, but those of others.


Berri produced for Serge Gainsbourg. He did Roman Polanski's TESS. He produced Jean-Jacques Annaud's controversial (in the States at least) THE LOVER. Annaud directed THE BEAR, which Berri also produced.

Berri produced loads of other movies, and he kept directing too, never resting for long. He produced two movies back to back right before directing the duology he is best known for: JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON OF THE SPRING.


Set in rural Provence, the two films are period domestic dramas. There's an inheritance to be bequeathed and so on. They are very much my kind of movies when I'm in the mood for the sort of thing. They're probably best served by pairing with French wine, food, and watching in an afternoon with friend. C'est bien magnifique!

It stars Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, and in one of his final roles, the great Yves Montand, alongside whom Berri had appeared as an actor years before. I love the romanticism of Berri working in a bit part with a major star and then going on to give the same actor one of his great final roles. Sadly for Montand, his beloved wife Simone Signoret (who is riveting in DIABOLIQUE among others) died during the seven month, back-to-back filming of JEAN and MANON.

Those two films set impossibly high expectations for him, and none of his future films could compete with JEAN/MANON's level of acclaim. He went on to produce the wildly successful ASTERIX AND OBELIX films directed and produced by his son Thomas Langmann (THE ARTIST). These broad audience comic book adaptations would stretch into the aughts, and theoretically are ongoing.

In 2003, Berri was elected President of the Cinémathèque Française, and is credited with returning the grand institution to glory. He helped fundraise a significant amount of money to get the Cinémathèque moved into a modern facility designed (and adapted for their use) by none other than legendary architect Frank Gehry. For what it's worth, everything I've read about the Cinémathèque's resurgence has indicated that Berri truly poured his heart into something that succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams. If his legacy is that of a great defender of cinema (its study, adoration and preservation), I think he'd rest easy with that.


Seek out his films. Spend a few brain cycles on him instead of refreshing your Twitter or email. What Would Scorsese Do?

Seize your weekend by the throat, my friends.


Monty Cristo

Twitter: @MontyAICN




Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 20, 2012, 7:49 p.m. CST

    I Noticed This Moment, And Knew Marty Knew Something I Didn't

    by Crow3711

    Thanks for the article, definitely going to seek out some more Claude Berri stuff. I wish I've seen half as many films as Marty has, and I've seen quite a few, to be frank. His nerdery of film is truly amazing. Oh, and fuck the guy who ruined this awesome article with a stupid "First" post. You're a douchebag.

  • Jan. 20, 2012, 7:55 p.m. CST

    Big thanks for the insight!

    by alienindisguise

  • Jan. 20, 2012, 8:14 p.m. CST

    THIS is the kind of thing AICN needs more of!

    by cymbalta4thedevil

    Intelligent Conversations about Cinema History.

  • Jan. 20, 2012, 8:50 p.m. CST


    by shrimp_shack_shooter

    Posts disappearing? Things be fishy here on aicn lately...

  • Jan. 20, 2012, 9:40 p.m. CST

    New guys

    by rartus

    Who are all these new AICN writers? Need to know these people who I guess are auditioning

  • Jan. 20, 2012, 10:30 p.m. CST

    Yeah who are the new guys? Are they SCABS or permanant?

    by JethroBodine

    How about an introduction first? Are the old guards being scuttled and systematically replaced? C'mon Harry, you know better than to run your website this way.

  • Jan. 20, 2012, 11:55 p.m. CST


    by Monty Cristo

    Talkback posts removed, you mean? I think the goofy "First" post got removed, if you mean that. Wasn't by me, I assure you.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 12:03 a.m. CST

    rartus, jethrobodine

    by Monty Cristo

    None of your favorite existing writers are going anywhere, I've been added to the ranks. Re: new "guys", I don't think anyone outside the regulars have posted in the last couple of days aside from myself and Annette Kellerman. Saucy Miss Annette has been writing for the site once in a blue moon for YEARS. She ain't new. Muldoon is also not new as far as I know, just not been around in a while. I, however, AM new and not being auditioned. I'm here to stay. Fancy black box and everything

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 12:10 a.m. CST

    You know what else makes Martin Scorsese smile?

    by Kammich


  • Jan. 21, 2012, 12:11 a.m. CST

    Okay, sorry.

    by Kammich

    In all seriousness, terrific post Monty. AICN needs to get back to this type of heartfelt, off-the-cuff material. Kudos.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 12:31 a.m. CST

    Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring are magnificent movies...

    by kisskissbangbang

    and sadly the only ones I've seen by Berri. This makes me want to seek out some others. Thanks so much for this first-class piece of filnm geekery, montycristo, and welcome aboard. (And for those of you with slightly less elevated tastes, I might mention that those films feature Emmanuelle Beart, one of the most beautiful women to ever walk the earth, nude. Come for the nudity, stay for the cinematic glory.) (And ditto for La Belle Noiseuse. Trust me, you'll thank me.)

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 12:34 a.m. CST

    That should be "film" geekery above, of course...

    by kisskissbangbang


  • Jan. 21, 2012, 1:01 a.m. CST

    Saw Jean de Florette and Manon in French class

    by Tacom

    Most memorable moment was seeing Emmanuelle Beart(you know that French chick in the first MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE) dance around a pond naked.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 1:07 a.m. CST

    Asterix & ObeliX ...

    by Dr. Zempf

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 1:34 a.m. CST


    by shrimp_shack_shooter

    Now I feel better. Just tryin to restore some order to these here talkbacks. Thanks Count.

  • FACT.

  • FUCK.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 2:10 a.m. CST

    The Bear was great too.

    by KilliK

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 2:10 a.m. CST

    Oh and let's not forget: NEPOTISM.

    by KilliK

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 2:15 a.m. CST

    killik, I'm usually allergic to people posting FACT...

    by kisskissbangbang if loud assertion equaled proof. But in this case, I think I'll make an exception.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 2:48 a.m. CST

    Great Article! Thanks :-)

    by Shady Drifter

    Was like a breath of fresh air this morning finding an article embracing the work of a person who seems like a genuine talent in the film world, and who I had never heard of. I do love The Bear though... it's an unforgettable movie!

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 2:49 a.m. CST


    by Monty Cristo

    Thanks for the catch. I blame Apple's godforsaken Autocorrect! I vow revenge!

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 2:51 a.m. CST


    by Monty Cristo

    Thanks for the love. Thank you also for noting the incentive to watch that I knew a Talkbacker would mention so that I didn't have to be indelicate.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 2:51 a.m. CST

    Emmanuelle Beart...

    by Shady Drifter

    Killik... I MUST watch that movie right now (with tissues at hand) :-)

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 3:07 a.m. CST

    Welcome, montycristo !

    by gotilk

    Nice article, nice to *meet* you. and yes... *Spend a few brain cycles on him instead of refreshing your Twitter or email.* Couldn't hurt, could it?

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 4:48 a.m. CST

    A great man, director, producer...

    by AudaAbuTayi

    ...seriously. He was an art and film geek first and foremost, one of the most influential people in French film, which explains why he knew Scorsese but also half of Hollywood. He was a very courageous, passionate producer and a very successful one as well (the Asterix films but also Welcome to the Sticks which grossed as much as Titanic in France on a $15 million budget). I'm really glad to see his son finding artistic recognition for a ballsy project his father would have loved, nepotism be damned. He was also an art collector with great flair. Berri's adaptation of Manon of the Springs is masterful but my personal favorite is The Two of Us: masterpiece with the great Michel Simon (who is, honestly, one of top five best actors to ever come out of France, check his filmography if you want to see unknown gems). Uranus and Tchao Pantin are also worth checking out. Anyway Monty, it's nice to meet you with such a well-written tribute.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 6:36 a.m. CST

    The Bear is a great film

    by Rtobert

    Virtually no dialogue, but you know what's happening all the time

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 7:28 a.m. CST

    Some great movies there.

    by cameron

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 8:27 a.m. CST

    its been quite a while since I saw either of those films...

    by emeraldboy

    manon and jean de florette. and I cant remember which has the following ending. the old man has died and his maid walks in to the room. there is no dialog at all. and she closes up the windows and boards them over , pulls down the blinds untill the room is virtually black and the last thing she does before she leaves the room is close. it was the best ending to a film i ever saw.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 8:40 a.m. CST


    by KilliK

    Book him. What's the charge? .....He's a lollipop stealer.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 8:41 a.m. CST


    by KilliK

    You are one ugly teddy bear.

  • Just a detail for film geeks by a film geek.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 8:43 a.m. CST


    by KilliK

    Leave anything for us? Just toys.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 8:46 a.m. CST

    Great piece, Monty. Welcome

    by P

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 8:49 a.m. CST


    by KilliK


  • Jan. 21, 2012, 8:49 a.m. CST

    Emeraldboy - last thing she does is close WHAT?

    by white_vader

    Where did the word go?

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 8:56 a.m. CST

    she closes the door...

    by emeraldboy

    the maid closes the door...

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 9:33 a.m. CST

    montycristo, thank you...

    by kisskissbangbang

    ...I tried to keep the classy tone you set while indicating the incentive you mentioned. Otherwise, I might have incurred your wrath, and there are few things I fear more than the vengeance of Edmond Dantes.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 9:44 a.m. CST

    Cool robohunter cigar robot

    by UltraTron

  • But I still wanted to say thanks again for a great piece, and since I didn't know you were new, welcome. I hope you can bring more of this kind of stuff to the site. Well done on the new job. I think this story was a strong introduction.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 9:51 a.m. CST

    Kudos to trying to expand geeks' horizons a bit

    by PaulSC

    But to be honest I wouldn't say Claude Berri is that obscure - I'd have thought most film geeks (as opposed to just regular geeks who only care about 'geek movies') would be familiar with Jean De Florette and Manon De Sources at the very least.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 9:58 a.m. CST

    However, The Bear was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud

    by Mickey The Idiot

    Berri was its producer. He made many excellent films in his own right and produced others so more than deserves kudos, but this one was in the same mode as Annaud's Quest for Fire.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 10:01 a.m. CST

    by Mickey The Idiot

    Sorry misread you there.... carry on. Oops.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 10:28 a.m. CST

    prague23, I did not know that...

    by kisskissbangbang

    ...or that Jan Svankmajer had ever done any work on a Western film. Thanks. For others unfamiliar with the name, he's a Czech filmmaker & animator (especially stop-motion) whose work has a surrealist tone to it. The one to see is probably his version of Faust; at least, it's the one that turned me onto him. You'd probably dig him if you're a Terry Gilliam fan, but he's not really like anyone else. (And prague23, how did you get that caret or whatever diacritical mark that is above the capital S? I can't figure out how to do it on my keyboard.)

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 10:55 a.m. CST


    by Monty Cristo

    It wasn't me, but I VOW REVENGE for you!

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 10:56 a.m. CST


    by Monty Cristo

    After all the things I had to do to survive in Chateau d'If...I'd rather not say for the sake of delicate Talkbacker ears.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 10:57 a.m. CST


    by scors54

    Could not agree more.Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring were a single film in Europe, split into two here in the US. The story arc from start to finish and the acing from Montand, Autiel and Depardieu was phenomenal. And the reveal at the end was one of the best ever. As a single film experience,it has always been one of my top 10 of all time.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 10:58 a.m. CST


    by Monty Cristo

    I love accidental off-topic hijacks like that. It's like if a plane got hijacked by a comedian instead of a terrorist. No one minds, no harm done, everyone is entertained.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 11:31 a.m. CST

    @kisskissbangbang - It's called a háček

    by Prague23

    The 'v' over the S in his name is an accent called a háček (pronounced 'ha-chek') & I cut-n-pasted it from the Czech alphabet Wikipedia page. I live in Prague (hence my AICN 'handle') though I'm American. The háček gives the 'S' a 'SH' sound in the Czech language. It also gives a 'C' a 'CH' sound instead of a 'TS' sound. It also has other uses. My personal favorite Švankmajer film is ALICE which is also the first one I ever saw so it has a special place in my heart. I like FAUST a lot also though. I'm a big fan of his short films as well (my personal favorite probably being THE DEATH OF STALINISM IN BOHEMIA) and have introduced many of my friends to his work due to how much of his material is on YouTube.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 11:35 a.m. CST

    Nice article but why are they censoring the talkback now?

    by Fritzlorrerains

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 12:11 p.m. CST

    The Bear likes The Bear

    by The Bear

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 12:53 p.m. CST

    auda abu tayi

    by Monty Cristo

    Akaba trembles in memory of you, well said.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 12:55 p.m. CST


    by Monty Cristo

    Film geeks come in many stripes. One may favor Spanish over French, or Japanese over Chinese cinema. True French film geeks would certainly know who Berri is and why he's great.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 12:59 p.m. CST


    by Monty Cristo

    I don't know about using a word as strong as "censoring" when it comes to clearing empty content. A post that only includes "FIRST" contributes less than nothing to a comment thread. That said, I wasn't the one who removed it, if it was in fact removed by an editor. AICN has always reserved the right to edit comments or ban commenters, and I wouldn't consider such a minor thing tantamount to censorship, since nothing was actually "said".

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 4:14 p.m. CST

    prague23, thanks for the typographical tip...

    by kisskissbangbang

    ...and agreed: certainly, anyone who likes Los Bros Quay should check out Svankmajer.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 4:30 p.m. CST

    scors54, you're concurring with me, and I concur right back...

    by kisskissbangbang

    ...Jean de Florette & Manon of the Spring (what did they call them as a single film?) are world-class filmmaking, and are up there with Gance's Napoleon, Renoir's Rules of the Game & anything you want to cite in French cinema as being at the summit. I'm not the type for Top Ten lists (I'm too wishy-washy & indecisive), but they're/it's definitely of the first rank. People need to see them/it; and I repeat: Emmanuelle Beart nude. If that's what it takes to get you through the door, then I'll say it again: Emannuelle Beart! Nude! And I guarantee you that, afterward, you won't regret seeing it, unlike Date With An Angel.

  • to refuse admission. chef anthony Worrall thompson is the exception to the rule. obviously.

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 9:45 p.m. CST

    Thanks Emerald!

    by white_vader

    I wondered if that was it. But you saying before she left the room confused me, know what I mean? Ta mate!

  • Jan. 21, 2012, 9:47 p.m. CST

    Švankmajer's Faust - best creepy full-sized marionettes ever!

    by white_vader

    I mean, like, evarrr!

  • Jan. 22, 2012, 12:58 a.m. CST

    Manon and Jean de Florette

    by dukeroberts

    They are really good movies. I watched them in French class in high school. Yes, and Emmanuelle Beart...sigh...

  • Jan. 22, 2012, 12:10 p.m. CST

    Thanks for a classy column, for a change

    by Proman1984

  • Jan. 22, 2012, 2:48 p.m. CST

    And to bring the film connections even farther back

    by Jbud

    Let's not forget JDF & Manon (which really should be watched together as one big romantic tragedy) are based on the novel by the great filmmaker Marcel Pagnol, "The Water of the Country" or "The Country Spring" (not sure what's the closest translation) And oh man, did Emmanuelle Beart drive my adolescent brain crazy...

  • Jan. 22, 2012, 10:48 p.m. CST

    Yes to a series of articles on French cinema.

    by Subovon