Jacques Rozier, Last of the French New Wave Directors, Dies at 96

Jacques Rozier, who directed critically acclaimed films like “Adieu Philippine” and “Du Côté d’Orouët” and who was considered the last surviving member of the French New Wave, if an underrated one, died on June 2 in the village of Théoule-sur-Mer in southern France. He was 96.

His death was announced on social media by his friend and former collaborator Michèle Berson.

Mr. Rozier was in his 30s when he emerged as part of the French film vanguard of the late 1950s and 1960s, channeling the same insurrectionary spirit as New Wave contemporaries like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, whose last names became one-word signifiers of swashbuckling directorial brilliance.

Such luminaries acknowledged him as a member in good standing in what amounted to one of cinema history’s most exclusive clubs, collectively committed to reinventing the art form by upending conventional notions of what a movie could be.

And he outlasted them all. After the death in 2019 of Agnès Varda, another director associated with the movement, Mr. Godard said in an interview with the Swiss public broadcasting network RTS that there were now only two of the original New Wave directors left, himself and Mr. Rozier. Mr. Godard, a longtime friend of Mr. Rozier, died last year.

“Adieu Philippine” (1962) was Mr. Rozier’s debut feature, a story about a young television technician’s breezy seaside dalliance with two teenage girls before he heads off to serve in the Algerian War.

While the film was not a commercial success, it inspired an emerging generation of mavericks.

Cahiers du Cinéma, the French film magazine that served as the bible of the movement, put the movie’s female stars, Yveline Céry and Stefania Sabatini, on the cover of an issue titled “Nouvelle Vague” (“New Wave”) and described the film as “the paragon of the New Wave, the one where the virtues of jeunes cinéma shine with their purest brilliance.”

The celebrated directors Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette, who were also aligned with the movement, declared “Adieu Philippine” a masterpiece. Mr. Truffaut wrote that it was “the clearest success of the new cinema where spontaneity is all the more powerful when it is the result of long and careful work.” Before its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Mr. Godard called the film “quite simply the best French film of recent years.”

Even so, it took Mr. Rozier, a single-minded director known for feuding with his producers, years to achieve even modest acclaim across the Atlantic. When “Adieu Philippine” finally premiered in New York in 1973, the critic Roger Greenspun of The New York Times wrote in his review that it was “especially ironic” that “perhaps the most agreeable, and surely one of the loveliest, of all New Wave movies” should have “had to wait so long.”

Even then, Mr. Rozier spent the next decades largely as a darling of critics and cineastes. The New Yorker called him the “odd man out” in a 2012 appreciation by the critic Richard Brody, a champion of his work. Observing that none of his five feature films were available in the United States, Mr. Brody wrote that Mr. Rozier “gets the award for Best French Director Undistributed Here.”

Mr. Rozier was born on Nov. 10, 1926, in Paris. After graduating from the Institute for Advanced Film Studies (now La Fémis) in his home city, he worked as an assistant in television and on film productions, including “French Cancan,” a 1955 musical directed by Jean Renoir. Mr. Rozier would go on to direct many French television shows throughout the 1960s.

Information on his survivors was not immediately available. His former wife, Michèle O’Glor, a writer and actress, died last year, following the death in 2021 of their son Jean Jacques Rozier, who worked as an operator on several of his father’s films.

Nine years after “Adieu Philippine” premiered at Cannes, Mr. Rozier returned to that fabled French Riviera festival with “Du côté d’Orouët,” a rambling comedy released in 1973 that was shot on 16-millimeter film. It followed three young women from Paris embarking on a vacation on the west coast of France.

More than two and a half hours long “and ultra casual, ‘Du côté d’Orouët’ is the epitome of what Quentin Tarantino would term a ‘hang out’ movie,” the Australian film site Senses of Cinema noted in 2018.

Rambling seaside films were common for Mr. Rozier. Among them are the 1976 comedy “Les Naufragés de l’île de la Tortue” (“The Castaways of Turtle Island”), about a travel agent who sets up Robinson Crusoe-style vacations in Caribbean islands, and “Maine-Océan” (“Maine-Ocean Express”), a 1986 road comedy set on a train traveling from Paris to Saint-Nazaire on the coast of Brittany.

His movies, including his final one, the theater-world comedy “Fifi Martingale,” from 2001, “are deliciously unstrung,” Mr. Brody wrote in his New Yorker appreciation.

“He builds them on the basis of elaborate improvisations, constructing long scenes of comic misadventures and amorous misunderstandings,” he wrote. “He casts the minutiae of daily life as cosmic playthings of destiny and invests them with an extraordinary, bittersweet romantic energy.”

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