Jean-Claude Carriere, ‘Unbearable Lightness of Being’ Screenwriter, Dies at 89

Pat Saperstein
·2-min read

Jean-Claude Carriere, the prolific French screenwriter and novelist who was Oscar-nominated for “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “That Obscure Object of Desire” and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” died Monday at his home in Paris. He was 89.

His family confirmed his death, of natural causes, to AFP.

Carriere was a frequent collaborator with Luis Bunuel, writing the screenplays for “Diary of a Chambermaid,” in which he also played the village priest, ” “Belle de Jour,” “The Milky Way” and “The Phantom of Liberty” as well as the international arthouse hits and Oscar nominees “That Obscure Object of Desire” and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie.”

In an interview for “The Storytellers,” Carriere talked about how close his relationship became with Bunuel, “It was a very close relationship. We were always alone in some remote place, often in Mexico or Spain, talking French and Spanish, without friends, without women, without wives. Absolutely no one around. Just the two of us. Eating together, working together, drinking together to get absolutely obsessed about the script we were working on. I calculated that we ate together, just the two of us, more than 2000 times. Which is much more than many couples can say.”

With more than 75 produced works, his other notable credits included “The Tin Drum,” “The Return of Martin Guerre,” “Valmont,” “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Nagisa Oshima’s “Max, Mon Amour.” Directed by Volker Schlondorff, 1979 “The Tin Drum” won both the foreign language Oscar and the Cannes Palme d’Or.

The prolific writer continued racking up film and television credits until very recently, collaborating on the screenplay for Philippe Garrel’s 2020 film “The Salt of Tears.”

“The best way to become a screenwriter is to participate humbly in the making of a film,” he said in the “Storytellers” interview, “Then, of course, it is necessary to have ideas. The work of a screenwriter is not only to write a film and to know all about the technical side of things: the sound, the images, the editing. His work, his function, is to look for new ideas. That is very important. To be able to offer a bouquet of different ideas. Not only one.”

Carriere won an Oscar for writing the short film “Happy Birthday” in 1963. In 2014, he received an honorary Oscar for his lifetime achievements.

He started his career as a novelist, and was soon hired by Tati to write short novels based on the auteur’s films.

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