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Alain Cavalier (b. 14th September 1931) came of age as a filmmaker during the New Wave era but had a distinctive vision which set him apart from his contemporaries. He made his name with political thrillers featuring complex characters such as Le Combat dans l’ile (Fire and Ice, 1962) and L’Insoumis (The Unvanquished, 1964), later turning to more philosophical works such as Un étrange voyage (1981) and Thérèse (1986) which won César Awards for Best Film and Best Director.


see also articles on:
Top 10 Films by Lesser Known Directors || French New Wave History ||
French New Wave Film Guide
Alain Cavalier
Dir. Alain Cavalier

After studying History, Alain Cavalier trained at the Institut des hautes etudes cinématographiques (The Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies), then became assistant to Louis Malle ( Elevator to the Gallows , The Lovers ).

He started directing with the short film An American (1958), before making his feature debut with the political thriller Le Combat dans I’île (Fire and Ice, 1962) starring Romy Schneider and Jean-Louis Trintignant. His next film L’Insoumis (The Unvanquished, 1964) starring Alain Delon, was another political thriller that drew on the Algerian war as its backdrop. Despite the presence of well-known actors, both films failed at the box office, in part due to their controversial subject matter.

Cavalier had his first real success with the thriller Mise à sac (Pillaged, 1967). This was followed by his biggest hit, La Chamade (Heartbeat), based on the novel by Francoise Sagan. Then, abruptly, he decided to forego directing for eight years. During this time he married French film actress and former Miss France winner Irène Tunc, who died in a car crash in 1972.

After recovering from his wife's death he returned with more experimental films, including the comedies Le Plein de super (Fill ‘er up with Super, 1976) and Martin et Léa (1978). These were followed by Ce répondeur ne prend pas de messages (This Answering Service Takes No Messages, 1979) and Un étrange voyage (A Strange Voyage, 1981), both of which dealt with the loss of a loved one. He enjoyed unexpected success with a feature film about holiness, Thérèse (1986), with a standing ovation at Cannes, where it won the Jury Prize. It also won six César Awards that year including those for Best Film and Best Director.

In he 90s, Cavalier continued his experimental work, and produced a film without dialogue: Libera me (1993) with the theme of oppression and torture. He then decided to abandon fiction and produced a series of documentary portraits, Vies ( Lives , 2000). In 2002 he mixed fiction and reality in René (2002) about one of his overweight actor friends' commitment to lose weight.

At the turn of the century, his autobiographical work continued with Le Filmeur (2005), a diary filmed between 1994 and 2005. It was screened at Cannes in 2005 as part of the "Un Certain Regard" selection. In 2009, he documented his marriage to Irène Tunc in Irene, starring Catherine Deneuve.

In 2011 Cavalier returned to competition at Cannes at the age of 79 with Pater which explored the relationship between the president of a Republic and his chosen heir.

Need suggestions? See our list of the Top 10 Films.
French Title
English Title
L'américain The American 1958 short  
Le combat dans l'île Fire and Ice 1962 feature  
L'insoumis The Unvanquished 1964 feature  
Mise à sac Pillaged 1967 feature  
La chamade Heartbeat 1968 feature  
Le plein de super Fill 'er Up with Super 1976 feature  
Martin et Léa Martin and Lea 1979 feature  
Ce répondeur ne prend pas de messages This Answering Service Takes no messages 1979 short  
Un étrange voyage   1981 feature  
Cinéma cinémas - Alain Cavalier: Lettre d'un cinéaste   1982 episode for television
Thérèse   1986 feature  
La dame des lavabos   1988 documentary  
Libera me   1993 short  
La rencontre   1996 short  
Vies Lives 2000 documentary  
René   2002 feature  
Le filmeur   2005 documentary  
Lieux saints   2007 documentary for television
Irène Irene 2009 documentary  
Pater Pater 2011 feature  


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