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07 October 2013

Alain-Fournier and Proust film adaptations. Part I

There have been two film adaptations of Alain-Fournier’s novel Le grand Meaulnes, by Jean-Gabriel Albicocco in 1967 and by Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe in 2006,  and several adaptations of  Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu  or parts of it. There have also been some other fascinating attempts to bring these two novels to the screen which failed despite the tireless efforts of two remarkable women – Isabelle Rivière and Nicole Stéphane.

Isabelle Rivière (1889-1971), Alain-Fournier’s sister and dedicatee of Le grand Meaulnes, owned Photograph of Isabelle Rivièrethe film rights to the novel. In 1933 she met André Barsacq (1909-1973), a young Ukrainian-born stage designer with some experience in film as assistant director to Jean Grémillon. Barsacq later became the director of the Théâtre de l'Atelier and for some forty years he was a major theatre director in Paris, staging the work of, among others, Luigi Pirandello, Jean Anouilh, Marcel Aymé, Paul Claudel, and Félicien Marceau, and adapting the works of Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Turgenev for the French stage.

Isabelle Rivière 

Barsacq and Rivière drafted a screenplay and in the 1940s there were location searches and screen tests, but plans foundered several times due to prohibitive financial costs. Rivière turned down proposals from other film makers, notably from Julien Duvivier, who first expressed an interest in 1937 and again in 1954. By the latter date Duvivier’s commercially successful Don Camillo films would have probably helped to raise money for the film of Le grand Meaulnes but Rivière’s faith in Barsacq remained unshakeable and the correspondence between the two continued for some 32 years until 1965, when she  finally realised that Barsacq’s theatrical commitments would always be his first priority, and offered the film rights  to Jean-Gabriel Albicocco, a young director who had already successfully adapted Balzac’s La Fille aux yeux d’or (1961). Albicocco’s film is rightly dedicated to Rivière and she was pleased with the result, as it is very faithful to the novel. Had she lived to see Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe’s  2006 adaptation she would have certainly disapproved of it, as it takes liberties with the text, notably by having Meaulnes, like Alain-Fournier, killed in the First World War.

Photograph of Nicole StéphaneNicole Stéphane (left) was an actress best known for her remarkable performance in Jean-Pierre Melville’s film of the Jean Cocteau novel Les Enfants terribles in 1950.  Her acting career having been cut short by a car accident, she became a film producer, and her credits include To Die in Madrid (1962), Frédéric Rossif’s documentary about the Spanish Civil War. In 1962 she acquired the film rights to A la recherche du temps perdu. Her epic attempts to turn Proust’s novel into a film lasted nearly as long as those of Isabelle Rivière, and she finally had to content herself with Volker Schlöndorff’s 1984 film Un Amour de Swann (Swann in Love) an adaptation of a more or less self-contained part of the novel. All her attempts to interest French film directors - René Clément, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, and Jacques Rivette – had previously failed.

More frustrating were the failed projects of Luchino Visconti and then of Joseph Losey between 1969 and 1977, both of which had to be abandoned at a late stage. It is a small consolation that both these aborted projects left behind them two remarkable screenplays by Suso Cecchi d’Amico (for Visconti) and Harold Pinter (for Losey) to which I would like to return in a later blog.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Italian Studies


Martine Beugnet / Marion Schmid. Proust at the Movies (Aldershot, 2004). YC.2006. a.5329.

André Barsacq: Cinquante ans de théâtre. (Paris, 1978).   X:900/20339.

Michel Autrand. ‘André Barsacq et le Grand Meaulnes au cinéma’ in  Bulletin des Amis de Jacques Rivière et d’Alain-Fournier, no118 (2007), p.93-106 and no.120 (2008), p. 81-110.  P.901/1770

Luchino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d'Amico. A la recherche du temps perdu [scénario d'après l'œuvre de Marcel Proust]. ([Paris], 1984). YA.1987.a.8894 

Harold Pinter. A la recherche du temps perdu: the Proust screenplay with the collaboration of Joseph Losey and Barbara Bray. (London, 1978). YC.1991.a.2249




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