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For its 36th installment, the Montreal World Film Festival (August 23-September 3, 2012) will pay homage to French director, writer and producer Claude Miller, who succumbed to illness this past April at age 70. As part of this salute, the fest will previewMiller's swansong, Thérèse Desqueyroux, about a cloistered wife (Audrey Tatou) who tries to poison her husband. Miller died while Desqueryroux was still in production. Based on François Mauriac's 1927 novel, the period biopic is slated to be released stateside in November.
Miller had attended MWFF seven times, including in 1981, when his crime thriller Garde à vue shared the Festival’s Grand Prix des Amériques (with Ben X). Based on the John Wainwright novel Under Suspicion, the three-César winner would later receive a Hollywood remake.
In 1983, the native Parisian returned to Montreal with Mortelle randonnée (Deadly Circuit), his thriller inspired by Marc Behm's novel Eye of the Beholder; and in 1994 he resurfaced with the dramatic comedy Le Sourire (The Smile). When Alias Betty (Betty Fischer et autres histoires) screened in 2001, Miller's screen version of a Ruth Rendell novel won the film critics' FIPRESCI award, and its three female leads, Nicole Garcia, Sandrine Kiberlain and Mathilde Seigner, shared Best Actress kudos.
Miller's WWII remembrance Un Secret (A Secret) again snared the Festival's top award -- this time all for itself -- having world premiered at 2007's Closing Night Gala. Based on a best-selling autobiographical novel by Phillippe Grimbert, Un Secret starred Cecile De France, Mathieu Almaric, Patrick Bruel, Julie Depardieu and Ludivine Sagnier.
Two years later, in 2009, family drama Je suis heureux que ma mère soit toujours vivante (I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive) took the trophy for Best Script. Miller shared directing credits with his son Nathan. That same year, Miller père also presented Marching Band, his documentary about the 44th US presidential elections filmed in Richmond, Virginia.
"It is with profound sadness that I have learned of the death yesterday of Claude Miller, whom we had hosted on numerous occasions," said MWFF president Serge Losique in a statement issued on April 5. "Montreal always had a warm welcome for his films and he reciprocated by presiding over the Festival's international jury. I would like to extend my sincerest condolences to his family. Claude was a personal friend as well as being a great friend of the Festival and our city."
Before taking the director's chair himself, Miller worked for such icons as Marcel Carné, Michel Deville and Robert Bresson. Nouvelle Vague cineastes from Jacques Demy to Jean-Luc Godard also tapped his services, and François Truffaut took him under his wing for eight productions.
Miller made his feature directorial debut in 1976 with La Meilleure façon de marcher (The Best Way to Walk), a summer camp drama which in earned him his first of many Césars. The following year Miller adapted Patricia Highsmith's edgy thriller This Sweet Sickness. French marquees featured this anti-lovestory of obsession as Dites-lui que je l'aime.
Working off a script by Truffaut, he had a hit on his hands in 1988 with La Petite voleuse (The Little Thief) starring a teen Charlotte Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg had also graced his 1985 César laureate L'Effrontée (Charlotte and Lulu). Miller's 1998 title, La Classe de neige (Class Trip), snagged the jury prize at that year's Cannes Film Festival. Like The Best Way to Walk, these films all subject their youthful heros to adult callousness or worse, a variation on Miller's pet theme of human cruelty.
A related leitmotif of Miller's 16-feature canon is a protagonist struggling to remain calm under pressure, whether self-generated or imposed from without. According to those who collaborated on Thérèse Desqueyroux, the filmmaker whose work helped define 30 years of French cinema himself kept his sangfroid despite his deteriorating health.
Miller is survived by his wife, Annie, and son, Nathan.
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