OBITUARY:Georges Charensol

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The Independent Online
Perhaps it was fitting that Georges Charensol should have died just before the opening of this year's Cannes Film Festival, since he was one of its founders and for many years a member of the jury. But his absence was noticeable, since several days and many films passed without there being any real controversy amongst audiences.

Charensol would have stirred things up from the beginning. He was a passionate critic who sought to startle, whether with lyrical praise or with vigorous denunciation, and did not easily give way in argument.

He became a legendary figure because he represented a period of rich and varied French culture. Having worked in the jewellery business, he started to write articles as a freelance, before in 1923 Louis Aragon made him theatre critic of his paper Paris-Journal. Through the paper's owner, Jacques Hebertot, Charensol became acquainted with the theatrical world of Paris in the 1920s. Two years later he started to work for the weekly Nouvelles Litteraires. He also became drama critic for the more conservative Revue des Deux Mondes. As a literary reviewer he tired of the deliberations of the Goncourt jury; with friends he founded the Renaudot prize for novels and short stories and he presided over its jury from 1925 until he retired in 1984. After the Second World War he edited the Nouvelles Litteraires and wrote their film reviews.

Charensol was a living encyclopaedia of French culture. In the film world he knew Melies, Rene Clair and Carne. Among writers and dramatists he was friends with Antonin Artaud, Cocteau, Aragon, Kessel and Malraux. He also knew Chagall and many musicians. His book of souvenirs was entitled D'une rive a l'autre. He edited Van Gogh's letters and compiled an encyclopaedia of French cinema.

But his greatest popular success occurred in the 1960s and 1970s with a radio programme, Le Masque et la Plume. There, on Sunday evenings, a number of critics would discuss new films, plays and novels. Charensol rapidly became a favourite as he held forth, speaking slowly and loudly, with a southern accent engaging in regular duels with his colleagues.

The French public liked to hear his pronouncements. "As I said to Bunuel. You artists do not know what you have done. It is we, the critics, who have to explain it to you." When faced with a modern production which did not, in his view, compare to the achievements of the inter-war period, he would comment: ''I'm not going to be taken in by this.'' He could be irritating; but it was always enjoyable to listen to him.

Douglas Johnson

Georges Charensol, critic and writer: born Privas, Ardeche 26 December 1899; died Paris 15 May 1995.