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In Memoriam
In Memoriam: Patrice Chéreau (1944-2013)
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 10/09/13
Last updated on: 10/09/13
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Patrice Chéreau.

Acclaimed French director, screenwriter, and actor Patrice Chéreau, who earned international renown for his visionary, often controversial, productions of opera, theater, and film, died on October 7, 2013 of complications from lung cancer.

Chéreau first captured attention for his daring work as a director of operas and plays. The film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's historical novel Queen Margot (La Reine Margot, 1994) established Chéreau as a leading cinema director as well, though his first film, La Chair de l'Orchidée (The Flesh of the Orchid, 1975), earned him two César (French Academy Award) nominations.

He directed his first professional play when he was 19; it was so successful that he abandoned his studies at the Sorbonne to pursue a career in theater. He was celebrated as a theater prodigy and soon became associated with important European theaters.

Although he directed his first opera in 1966, the operatic productions that established him as an international opera director were his interpretations of Wagner's Ring tetralogy for the one hundredth anniversary of the Bayreuth Festival, 1976-1980. Recruited by conductor Pierre Boulez, Chéreau's version of the operas moved the action to the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, framing realistic details within an hyperrealist context that challenged their verisimilitude and made them part of a psychic landscape.

Although the productions angered Wagner purists--there were near riots at Bayreuth--they are now regarded as classics. Chéreau's mise-en-scène became an important point of reference for directors interested less in literal adaptations than in avant-garde transpositions in an attempt to render dated operas relevant to modern sensibility.

In his films, which include Wounded Man (L'homme blessé, 1983), Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (Ceux qui m'aiment prendront le train, 1998), Intimacy (2001), His Brother (Son Frère, 2003), Gabrielle (2005), and Persecution (2009), Chéreau often features intense portrayals of gay men and homosexual relationships.

As Luca Prono observes in his glbtq.com entry, "Chéreau's films reveal a particular concern for the representation of human bodies, not as idealized objects of beauty, but as graphically mired in their imperfect physicality and sexuality."

Chéreau repeatedly said that being gay affected him as an artist, though he failed to specify exactly in what ways. He also stressed that he never wanted to specialize in gay stories. Instead, he claimed to be interested in the general theme of desire and how it affects people. The experience of desire, Chéreau insisted, is strikingly similar for heterosexuals and homosexuals.

For many years, Chéreau maintained a romantic relationship with actor Pascal Greggory, whom he directed in several films and plays.

He is survived by a brother.

In the video below, Chéreau discusses his film Persecution.

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