Alain Cuny, Paris, 1979
René Xavier Marie Alain Cuny|
12 July 1908
16 May 1994 (aged 85)|
Alain Cuny (12 July 1908 – 16 May 1994) was a French actor in theatre and cinema.
René Xavier Marie Alain Cuny was born in Saint-Malo, Brittany. He developed an early interest in painting and from the age of 15 he attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He met Picasso, Braque and members of the surrealist group.
He then began working in the film industry as a costume, poster and set designer and was employed on films of Cavalcanti, Feyder and Renoir. After a meeting with the actor-manager Charles Dullin, Cuny was persuaded to study drama and he began acting on stage in the late 1930s.
In the theatre, Cuny became particularly linked with the works of Paul Claudel (who said of him after a performance of L'Annonce faite à Marie in 1944, "I have been waiting for you 20 years"). Another literary friend and hero was Antonin Artaud, "whose texts he read with supreme conviction at a time when Artaud was more or less an outcast, a situation reflected in Artaud's Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society, which Cuny interpreted in his voice's fabulous organ tones". Later Cuny worked with Jean Vilar at the Théâtre national populaire, and with Jean-Louis Barrault at the Odéon-Théâtre de France. His dramatic presence and measured diction made him well-suited to many classical roles.
His first major role in the cinema was as one of the devil's envoys in Marcel Carné's film Les Visiteurs du soir (1942). A few other romantic leading parts followed, but increasingly he appeared in supporting roles, especially in characterizations of intellectuals such as the tormented philosopher Steiner in La Dolce Vita (1960), directed by Federico Fellini. He worked frequently in Italian cinema and had close associations with Michelangelo Antonioni and Francesco Rosi as well as Fellini. One of his most admired film performances was in Rosi's Uomini contro (Many Wars Ago, 1970), as the rigidly authoritarian General Leone.
Among his French films were The Lovers (Les Amants, 1958), directed by Louis Malle, and Jean-Luc Godard's Détective (1985). He also appeared in the softcore porn film Emmanuelle (1974), a role which he said he took to show his contempt for the film business. In the same year, he played Sitting Bull in the absurdist western Ne touchez pas à la femme blanche! (Don't Touch the White Woman!, 1974).
Towards the end of his career he returned to aspects of Claudel. He appeared in Camille Claudel (1988), a biographical film about the author's sister in which he played their father, Louis-Prosper Claudel. In 1991 he completed a long-planned film adaptation of a Claudel play The Annunciation of Marie (L'Annonce faite à Marie, 1991), a French-Canadian production in which he both directed and acted; it won him the Prix Georges-Sadoul. He also gave regular readings of Claudel's work at the Festival d'Avignon.