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French director Claude Miller dies after long illness

Career spanned 50 years and some 20 pictures including Garde à Vue, Deadly Circuit (Mortelle Randonnée), L’Effrontée and The Little Thief (La Petite Voleuse).

French director Claude Miller passed away at his Paris home on Wednesday evening after a long illness.

The 70-year-old filmmaker had recently finished post-production on his latest film Thérèse Desqueyroux, an adaptation of François Mauriac’s 1920s classic novel with Audrey Tautou in the lead role of the complex heroine.

Yves Marmion’s Les Films du 24, which produced the feature, confirmed it had been completed before Miller’s death. Due for release in France in November, it has been tipped for a possible Cannes premiere.

A much respected and loved figure in the French film world, Miller’s career spanned 50 years and some 20 pictures including Garde à Vue, Deadly Circuit (Mortelle Randonnée),L’Effrontée and The Little Thief (La Petite Voleuse).

Miller was born into a laic, Jewish family living in the poor suburb of Montreuil on the eastern outskirts of Paris in 1942. His father refused to wear the Star of the David during the German occupation. An act, according to Miller, that saved the family from deportation.

After attending the Institute for Higher Cinema Studies (Idhec) in the early 1960s, Miller gained experience as an assistant director with the likes of Robert Bresson on the 1966 Au Hasard Balthazar, Jacques Demy on the 1967 The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles du Rochefort) and Jean-Luc Godard on Week End.

He debuted on the Croisette in the early 1970s with the shorts La Question Ordinaire and Camille ou la Comédie Catastrophique, which screened in the Directors’ Fortnight in 1970 and 1972.

In 1976, Miller directed his first feature-length film The Best Way to Walk (La Meilleure Façon de Marcher), revolving around the tense relationship between a virile sports teacher and a cross-dressing music teacher at a holiday camp for boys.

He followed this debut picture with Dite-lui que je l’aime, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel This Sweet Sickness starring Gérard Depardieu as a love-obsessed man. It was the first of a number of adaptations throughout Miller’s career.

The 1980s marked a successful period at the box office with hits such as Garde à Vue, a tense thriller revolving around a series of child murders starring Lino Ventura and Michel Serrault, and Mortelle Randonnée (Deadly Circuit), an adaptation by Michel and Jacques Audiard of Marc Behm’s thriller The Eye of the Beholder.

Other notable films included L’Effrontée, a coming of age tale starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as a motherless teenager, and The Little Thief (La Petite Voleuse), again starring the actress as a bored teenager hell-bent on escaping her post World War Two provincial town and based on a screenplay by François Truffaut.   

Troubled teenagers were a recurrent theme in Miller’s work. His 1998 Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner Class Trip (La Classe de neige) revolved around a boy suffering from disturbing nightmares while on a school skiing trip.

His 2009 film I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive (Je suis heureux ma mère soit vivante), followed an adopted adolescent who becomes obsessed with tracking down his birth mother.

Aside from filmmaking, Miller presided over the director and producer body L’ARP, France’s prestigious Fémis cinema school and the network of European exhibitors Europa Cinémas. He is survived by his wife Annie Miller and son Nathan Miller. 

His colleagues at Europa Cinemas, where he served as president since 1993, issued this statement: “Claude Miller passed away, struck down by an illness with which he had been courageously struggling for many months. He had just finished his film Thérèse Desqueyroux, which he shot this summer. The many members of the Europa Cinemas network, which he had presided over since 1993, remember him above all for his exceptional warmth and commitment. His immense talent as a filmmaker and his international recognition were genuine assets in constructing this network of cinemas, with which he maintained the closest of ties. He loved writing screenplays, directing actors and making films, but at the same time he was always keen to expose audiences to a wide diversity of films, both in terms of genre and origin. For almost twenty years he enjoyed sharing the daily life of network exhibitors, meeting them on location and visiting their cinemas. We were proud of the sincere interest he brought to this work, and we knew we could always count on him. His films will remain, but we will never forget the part of his life he dedicated to Europa Cinemas, actively championing the diversity of films in European cinemas – and around the world. Our thoughts go out to his family, in particular to his wife Annie and his son Nathan.” 

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