Obituary: Alexandre Trauner

Alexandre Trauner, painter, designer, art director: born Budapest, Hungary 3 September 1906; twice married; died Omonville-La-Petite, Normandy 6 December 1993.

NO CITY has been more eloquently expressed on screen than Paris, from Rene Clair to the nouvelle vague directors, who rediscovered it by sending their cameras out into the streets. Clair did not consider doing this: his great designer, Lazare Meerson, recreated Paris in the studio. .

Meerson's pupil Alexandre Trauner distilled a Paris even more Paris than Paris - one that was uniquely his, in the wonderful batch of films written by Jacques Prevert and directed by Marcel Carne. Some of them starred Jean Gabin, and just as his monolithic presence was essential to their romantic, poetic, humanist and doomed world, so were Trauner's mordant, teeming sets: the bridges over the canal in Hotel du Nord (1938); the hotel towering above the square and the factories in Le Jour se leve (1939); and, above all, the great boulevard of 19th-century Paris in Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), started during the Nazi Occupation while Trauner, a Jew, was in hiding. The failure of Les Portes de la Nuit (1946) ended the Carne-Prevert collaboration, but Trauner's evocation of the Boulevard de la Chapelle was complete and magnificently witty.

Trauner had moved from the capital for Carne, to a fogbound Le Havre in Quai des brumes (1938), but again on this coast - Brest - he was required to match his seedy cafes with real streets and clifftop locations for Jean Gremillon's Remorques (1941). He did so again for La Marie du port (1950), which marks a decline in Carne's work, notable only - despite Gabin - for its portrait of this small harbour town, but they were agreeably reunited for the misanthropic Juliette ou le Clef des Songes (1951), in which Gerard Philipe wanders through a pays sans memoire.

During this period Trauner began working with Orson Welles on Othello, which was not completed till 1952 - since when its merits have been much disputed, though not its visual quality. It could not be said that it opened up an international career, since Trauner's contribution to the Carne-Prevert films had brought him universal recognition, but thereafter he was the preferred designer of most American directors working in Europe. Significantly, Billy Wilder chose him for Love in the Afternoon (1957), which was what Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn were doing in a hotel on the Place Vendome. From this point on, since the rules of movie-making had changed, Trauner was more likely to be found scouting locations than in his studio. He collaborated with Wilder on some of his best movies - including The Apartment (1960), One, Two, Three (1961) and Kiss Me Stupid (1961), taking him respectively to Manhattan, a divided Berlin and a dullsville American small town. .

Another leading director, Fred Zinnemann, moved Trauner to Belgium and the Congo for The Nun's Story (1959) and to Spain for Behold a Pale Horse (1964). Apart from the films with Wilder, Trauner showed little interest in working in the United States, but remained in demand from Hollywood talents, including Anatole Litvak (Aimez-vous Brahms? / Goodbye Again, The Night of the Generals), William Wyler (How to Steal a Million) and John Huston, for whom he created the mystic world of Kipling's adventurers in The Man Who Would Be King (1975). .

Trauner worked several times with Joseph Losey, and arguably his selection of the Palladian villas of the Veneto is the sole redeeming feature - Mozart apart - of Don Giovanni (1979). His career turned full circle when Luc Besson sent him back to the drawing board to create the sinister Paris underground of Subway (1985) - and when Bertrand Tavernier asked him to design a studio Paris for Round Midnight (1986). But of his late work, the fly-blown small African town in Tavernier's Coup de Torchon is as memorable as his great work for Carne and Prevert. He was buried next to Prevert in the village of Omonville-La-Petit.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor