Jean-Daniel Pollet

New Wave film-maker

Jean-Daniel Pollet, film-maker: born La Madeleine, France 20 June 1936; died Cadenet, France 9 September 2004.

The film-maker Jean-Daniel Pollet was filming a close-up travelling shot of an express train, the sort of sequence common in documentaries like Harry Watt and Basil Wright's Night Mail (1936). But he was standing too close to the track, facing the express as it thundered past, and he was struck from behind by the last carriage, which happened to be much wider than the others. The impetus of the shock swept him scores of metres along the embankment. He suffered multiple serious injuries, but survived, though he was confined to bed for most of the rest of his life. He had 27 fractures.

That horrifying accident took place one day in April 1989. Pollet was to live for another 15 years. But he could not lead the active life he had enjoyed in the creation of a dozen or so remarkable films beginning in 1957 with Pourvu qu'on ait l'ivresse ("As Long as the Party Lasts").

For his compulsory military service, he worked with the army cinematograph unit. His first professional job was with the great Julien Duvivier as technical assistant on the set of L'Homme a l'imperméable ( The Man in the Raincoat, 1957). He was later to declare: "Duvivier taught me everything about what one must not do."

That was good advice for a young man already involved in the excitements of the nouvelle vague of young cineastes. Pourvu qu'on ait l'ivresse was his first short: a shy young man tries unsuccessfully to pick up young girls at the local hop at Joinville. During the shooting, Pollet encountered a young apprentice tailor who spent all his free time cruising the local dance halls showing off his wonderful footwork yet always conducting himself in a comically serious, stony-faced manner with his mystified partners. This phenomenon was Claude Melki and Pollet immediately saw in him a French Buster Keaton to out-Keaton the inimitable Buster.

The short, perceived as heralding a new, more direct style of filming ordinary life, won Pollet a prize at the Venice Mostra. It belongs with some of the most enchanting cinematic work about popular dance, from Duvivier's Un carnet de bal (1936, Christine in the UK) that enchanted my dance-driven adolescence to the sublime 1983 Le Bal ("The Ball") by Ettore Scola.

Pollet made several other short but memorable features: Gala (1961), Méditerranée (1963) and Le Horla (1966), a subtle interpretation of Maupassant's story, sympathetically creepy, among them. But it was with the enigmatic comedian Claude Melki that he made five of his best early full-length works.

The first was in fact a short feature embedded in a collaborative effort by other members of the rising nouvelle vague, led by Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Jean Rouch and Jean Douchet, and introducing players like Joanna Shimkus, Stéphane Audran, Micheline Dax, Barbet Schroeder: a youthful galaxy in which Claude Melki shone with his own indescribable aura. The actors were presented as tourists in Paris, and part of the interest of this cinematic omnibus - Paris vu par . . . ( Six in Paris) - is its views of the city as it was in 1965, before it was ruined by urban planning and the hideous grandeurs of the Mitterrand regime.

Pollet's next film, the full-length pathetic comedy L'Amour c'est gai, l'amour c'est triste ( Love is Gay, Love is Sad, 1968) starred the divine Melki, who outshone such old troupers as Jean-Pierre Marielle, Bernadette Lafont and Chantal Goya.

Melki was then picked up by several leading New Wave directors, though Pollet claimed his "creature" was never at ease with them. In 1971, Georges Lautner put Melki in Laisse aller . . . c'est une valse ( Take It Easy It's a Waltz). Jacques Demy made full use of Melki's lanky moonwalking elegance in another talkative title, L'Evénement le plus important depuis que l'homme a marché sur la lune (reduced to A Slightly Pregnant Man for the UK, 1973). But he made his best and most individual film with Pollet: L'Acrobate ( The Acrobat, 1976).

L'Acrobate became Pollet's non-commercial masterpiece. Not since Le Horla had he felt such creative self-confidence. Melki still had the slim, elastic body Pollet had discovered at Chez Max, the dance hall on the Marne. Melki was the very soul of the afternoon tango, a divine gift that was still to be made good use of in the 1985 film tribute to Carlos Gardel, Tangos, by a director who really knew the essence of that languorous down-to-earth mating dance, Fernando Solanas. After that success, Claude Melki gradually, with suave indifference, melted away as an actor and dancer. His final screen appearance was in Pollet's Contretemps (1988). He then slipped into oblivion and poverty, and died in a small back room in 1994.

By that time, Pollet had practically given up film-making. His injuries kept him at home, a permanent invalid. But he managed to produce, in 1997, an inspired adaptation in film terms of certain poems by Francis Ponge, Dieu sait quoi ("God Knows What"). His last film, Ceux d'en face ( Those Facing Us), was completed with great difficulty in 2001. It is about absence, solitude, forced seclusion in the chaos of contemporary existence.

He died unwillingly, leaving behind him a number of works that never knew the comfort of a cinema screen. (One of the most impressive is said to be about life in a leper hospital in Greece.) He had just finished a new scenario.

James Kirkup

Suggested Topics
Mickey Rourke celebrates his victory against opponent Elliot Seymour
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
Actor Burt Reynolds last year

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game