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Rohmer, master of French cinema, dies at 89

Director who paid tribute to Hitchcock was himself an inspiration to Hollywood

The French film director, Eric Rohmer, one of the leaders of the "New Wave" movement which revitalised cinema in the 1960s, died yesterday at the age of 89.

Mr Rohmer, an intensely private, even secretive man, worked almost until the end and made his last movie in 2007. He will probably be best remembered for his blend of sentimentality and almost literary fussiness and erudition in films such as Ma Nuit chez Maude (1969) and L'Amour l'après-midi (Love in the Afternoon, 1972)

Like several of his "New Wave" colleagues such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, Mr Rohmer began as a writer and cinema critic before making his first film in 1959.

"It's not a labour to make films, it's a passion like gambling or fishing," he once said. "I never had a disappointment in making a film, I don't think I ever made a bad one." Despite his reputation as an almost academic film-maker, he was a great admirer of the style of the classic Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 1940s. He often paid tribute to his debt to Alfred Hitchcock, whom he regarded as the greatest director of all time.

Despite continuing to make movies, Mr Rohmer became reclusive in the last decade of his life, rarely giving media interviews or attending the great cinema occasions. His reputation as a generous and warm-hearted man survived, however. Contacted a couple of years ago by a British student living in Paris, he gave her hours of his time over several days and helped her to gain a first in her Cambridge dissertation. The subject? The films of Eric Rohmer.

He was born Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer in Tulle in Corrèze in south western France in April, 1920. After working as a teacher and writing a novel, he became a cinema writer and critic. In 1950, he founded La Gazette du Cinéma with Godard, Truffaut and Jacques Rivette, all of whom went on to make films of their own.

Mr Rohmer later became the editor of the Cahiers du Cinéma, the highly intellectual journal of the "New Wave" movement. Although there was not a single style or technique, the overall ambition was to bring a more individual, improvised approach to direction and turn away from the shallower forms of commercial film-making.

Mr Rohmer created his own production company in 1959. He always wrote his own scripts, pioneering the French "auteur", or director-as-sole-artistic-controller approach, which influenced – without ever completely taking over – the fresher Hollywood approach of the 1970s and 1980s. In 50 years as a film-maker he made 25 full-length features, culminating in L es amours d'Astrée et de Celadon in 2007.

His most successful film late in life was probably L'Anglaise et le duc (The Englishwoman and the Duke) in 2000, an experimental film set during the Terror of the French Revolution.

As a disciple of Hitchcock – about whom he wrote a book with French director Claude Chabrol – Mr Rohmer said that the secret of successful movie-making was suspense. " I must have suspense in my films," he said. "I can't stand films that are boring."

The former French culture minister, Jack Lang, paid tribute to Mr Rohmer last night as a "master of French cinema" and "a man who discovered everything".