French director Claude Chabrol, one of the founders of the New Wave movement whose films probed the latent malice beneath the placid surface of bourgeois life, died on Sunday. He was 80.
Christophe Girard, who is responsible for cultural matters at Paris City Hall, announced the death on his blog. Other City Hall officials confirmed that Chabrol passed away, but declined to provide any details, including the cause of death.
A prolific director, Chabrol made more than 70 films and TV productions during his more than half-century-long career. His first movie, 1958's "Le Beau Serge" won him considerable critical acclaim and was widely considered a sort of manifesto for the New Wave, or "Nouvelle vague" movement — which reinvented the codes of filmmaking and revolutionized cinema starting in the late 1950s. The vastly influential movement also included directors like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.
Chabrol's movies focused on the French bourgeoisie, lifting the facade of respectability to reveal the hypocrisy, violence and loathing simmering just below the surface. Often suspenseful, his work drew comparisons with that of Alfred Hitchcock.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking during his trip Sunday to the western Dordogne region, compared Chabrol to two giants of French letters, Rabelais and Balzac.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon called him a "great director, producer and screenwriter (who) was one of the grand figures of the 'Nouvelle vague,' which revolutionized the style and techniques of cinema by looking at real experience, true life, that which is indiscreet and subtle."
"With the death of Claude Chabrol, French cinema has lost one of its maestros," Fillon said in a statement.
Thierry Fremaux, who runs the Cannes Film Festival, told i-Tele news channel that Chabrol "had a much more classic style" than some of the other, more experimental New Wave filmmakers. "But in this classicism there was such an audacity, such freedom and erudition that I think — and history will tell — that his thrillers ... will remain something totally unique in French cinema."
Speaking on France-Info radio, Fremaux called Chabrol's death "a real shock because he was 80 years old but he continued to work, and the energy, feeling and joie de vivre that he'd always shown made you think he'd always be around."
"Claude Chabrol is part of our national patrimony ... for his films and also for his personality," he said.
Serge Toubiana, who heads the Paris Cinematheque, told the same radio station that Chabrol "was a delicious, malicious man with an incredible intelligence. ... He loved to laugh, loved jokes and made jokes, sort of masked himself through joking."
Chabrol worked at a fast clip, churning out about a film every year. He wrote some original scripts, but also adapted classics of French literature, including "Madame Bovary" (1991) and stories by Guy de Maupassant, for the cinema and for television.
Chabrol's top films included "Les Biches," or "Bad Girls," from 1968 and 1970's "The Butcher," as well as the 2000 mystery "Merci pour le chocolat," with actress Isabelle Huppert, one of his favorite actresses — who starred early on in her career in Chabrol's "Violette Noiziere," (1978) and "Story of a Woman" (1988).
Chabrol's last feature film, "Bellamy" — featuring another giant of French cinema, Gerard Depardieu — came out last year.
Chabrol was born in Paris on June 24, 1930. The son of a pharmacist, he said he "completely" belonged to the sort of bourgeois social milieu that would become the fodder for his films — "otherwise I wouldn't have dared" depict it, Chabrol said in a 1987 interview.
The bourgeois "are always amusing and they can also be very mean, so it's just marvelous," he told "Mardi cinema" television program.
As a young man, he studied literature and law before writing movie reviews in the respected French film magazine "Cahiers du cinema." He had not yet turned 30 when "Le Beau Serge," the story of a man's return to his native village after a long absence, was released to critical acclaim.
A bon vivant and longtime smoker, Chabrol was rarely seen without his trademark pipe or Cuban cigar — even on set. He was also a joker and liked to ham it up for the cameras, often making grimaces and funny faces while on the red carpet.
Chabrol also acted, making Hitchcock-style cameos in many of his own films, as well as those by other directors. He last appeared in this year's "Gainsbourg," playing a music producer in filmmaker Joann Sfar's biopic about singer Serge Gainsbourg.
In 2004, he was awarded the European Film Award for the body of his work and a year later received a top honor from the Academie Francaise.
Chabrol was married three times and had three sons. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.