Obituary: Louis Ducreux

Louis Ducreux, producer, theatre director, dramatist, actor, born Marseilles 22 September 1911, died Paris 19 December 1992.

A FRAIL, white-haired old gentleman in rumpled, old-fashioned pyjamas - this is our first sight of Louis Ducreux in Bernard Tavernier's exquisitely nostalgic film Un dimanche a la campagne ('A Sunday in the Country', 1984). We see him pottering around a rustic kitchen, and the early morning sunshine plays on his white moustache, his kindly, wrinkled face with the sad mouth, the luminous eyes of a gentle visionary.

For this is also Ladmiral, an old forgotten painter who could not adapt himself to the new styles and theories of the Impressionists, whose work fills him with amused contempt. They no longer see the world as he sees it.

And yet, we see that world, throughout the film, through the old artist's eyes, and it is a world grown familiar to us through the paintings of the Impressionists, almost a Tennysonian world, in which it seems to be always afternoon. The sounds of a provincial Sunday - distant church bells, children's voices, birdsong, the preparations for a substantial Sunday lunch - create a kind of natural musical background.

The period is around 1910, and we are reminded of a similar film, Dejeuner sur l'herbe ('The Picnic', 1959) by Jean Renoir, who perhaps had Manet's famous painting in mind when he borrowed his title, though Manet's alfresco luncheon, with its startling female nude, is a little too grand for the simple Renoir picnic.

All the themes beloved of the despised Impressionists are here: the calm bourgeois interiors with their still-lifes of flowers, fruit and domestic objects, the radiant garden, the period clothes, the pets, the confident, unharried faces. There is also a veteran car, however, an intrusion into the pastoral quiet. It brings the old man's family for Sunday lunch, and as the scenes follow one another, we become aware that the trouble in the painter's mind is caused not just by his rejection of modern art, but also by his growing preoccupation with the equally unbelievable reality of his own old age.

It is a tender, unsentimental, deeply human portrait, sketched in by Ducreux with many delicate touches - his rather pathetic concern about his appearance, the way he touches things, with a delicate grace, as if he feared they might be as brittle as he feels his bones to be. It is a superbly natural performance that is in no way upstaged by a great actress, Sabine Azema, as the old painter's daughter. For Louis Ducreux is playing up his own inimitable self, a character so far removed from the cinematic stereotypes of old people that it strikes us as radiantly youthful in its originality. We are spectators of a masterpiece of acting, unforced, unobtrusive in its use of skills learned during a lifetime in the theatre.

Ducreux was born in 1901 in Marseilles into a family that was infatuated by the theatre and the opera. In 1931, he decided, with his family's support, to form his own company of amateur enthusiasts in Marseilles under the name Le Rideau Gris. The colour of the curtain was symbolic, and its discretion and subdued good taste were to be the hallmarks of all Ducreux's work in the theatre.

In 1933, encouraged by its initial successes, the company became semi-professional. Ducreux recruited then two men whose names were to become famous - Andre Roussin and Georges Wakhevitch. The latter, a Frenchman of Russian extraction, designed the decors of some one hundred of Ducreux's productions. Roussin became a prolific dramatic author, with many long-running successes, like La petite hutte ('The Little Hut', 1947); but he always claimed that he had learnt all his art from Ducreux, working in productions of writers like Cocteau, Supervielle and Claudel, and co-directing classics by Gay and Shakespeare, before he wrote his first play, Am stram gram, in 1941. Meanwhile, Ducreux had also begun trying his hand at play-writing: his Clair-Obscur was put on in Paris in 1938, followed by Musique Legere, L'Amour en papier and La Part du feu.

Ducreux moved from Marseilles to Lyons, then for 15 years was director of the Opera at Marseilles and Monte Carlo. In those days, he was fortunate to have two influential sponsors, the socialist Gaston Defferre and Prince Rainier III, an ecumenical collaboration that this mild-mannered meridional with the mischievous Voltairean smile accepted with sunny equanimity. Towards the end of his life, he took over the direction of the Grand Theatre de Nancy, where he produced operas by Britten, Poulenc and Berg.

Louis Ducreux was on the committee of SACD (Societe des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques) - equivalent to our Performing Rights Society. At one of their meetings he found himself sitting next to Bertrand Tavernier, and in a pause during royalty negotiations Tavernier asked Ducreux if he would like to act in his new film. Ducreux accepted, and Tavernier directed him with such care and sympathy that he produced one of the most unforgettable portraits of sprightly old age in the history of the French cinema. It scored an immediate hit with public and critics, and its success led to other roles for Ducreux in Italy and on the small screen. But it is as that sweet, lovable old painter Ladmiral that he will be best remembered.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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 People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness