Jean-Claude Carrière, who died Monday at 89 at his home in Paris of natural causes, had a prolific, six-decade career. The French screenwriter and novelist penned dozens of scripts, including “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.”
Among his more late-in-life projects was co-writing with Jonathan Glazer and Milo Addica the 2004 drama “Birth.” Glazer, who also directed the film, shared with IndieWire a remembrance of Carrière, in which he reflected on how the pair developed the idea:
Ten years after the sudden death of her husband, a woman gets a visit from a ten year old boy claiming to be his reincarnation. That’s pretty much all I had. My producer at the time sent it to Jean-Claude and he invited me to his house in Paris. I was very nervous. He said he liked the idea very much. Within a few minutes, I watched him turn every page of a book of love stories, looking to see whether it had been done before. Then he closed the book and said that it hadn’t. And that there were likely two reasons for that. Either because no-one had thought to do it, or that it shouldn’t be done at all. He asked me whether I had a title for it. I told him Before Birth. He wrote that down on a piece of paper, looked at it for a second or two, then crossed out the word Before. That’s how it started. We worked through it for a year. Hard to sum up the impact that had on me. And how much he taught me. The day we finished, he poured us the best glass of wine I will ever have. And we sat in silence and savoured it.
“Birth,” which stars Nicole Kidman, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, and Anne Heche, had a divisive reception following its 2004 release. Though it was largely panned at the time, it has gone on to be reevaluated: Critic David Thompson named it one of 10 “lost works of genius,” while IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio wrote in 2014 the film was “still a masterpiece.”
Carrière was perhaps best known for his collaborations with Luis Buñuel, writing screenplays for “Diary of a Chambermaid,” “Belle de Jour,” “The Milky Way,” and “The Phantom of Liberty,” as well as the Oscar-nominated “That Obscure Object of Desire” and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie.”
Carrière’s most recent Academy Award nomination came in 1989 for “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” the novel adaptation he co-wrote with director Philip Kaufman. In 2015, he was bestowed an honorary Oscar for his rich career of writing that elevated “the art of screenwriting to the level of literature.”