Robert Chazal, who served for 30 years as the film critic of what was then France’s widest circulation daily paper, France-Soir, died in a Paris area clinic April 12. He was 89 and had been ill for several years.
In a nation where general-circulation newspapers and magazines have always followed cinema as diligently as they cover politics, Chazal’s was a household name in the manner of America’s Roger Ebert.
Chazal, whose style was straightforward and witty, excelled at making allegedly “difficult” films accessible to the common reader and did much to impart his unpretentious love of movies to the masses.
He began as a critic in 1936, writing through the years for a vast array of popular and trade publications. But it was at France-Soir — where his column, accompanied by a photo of his distinctive bald noggin, often began on the front page — from 1957 to 1988 that Chazal made his greatest impact.
For many years president of the French Union of Film Critics and honorary president until his death, Chazal also penned biographies of Marcel Carne, Jean-Paul Belmondo, French comic Louis de Funes and Gerard Depardieu plus others.
He wrote several novels as well as one play, “La Moitie du plaisir” which was staged by tyro actor-director Robert Hossein in 1968. Hossein also directed the 1961 film “Le Jeu de la verite” from a screenplay by Chazal. In 1987 Chazel wrote a book-length history of the Cannes Film Festival for the event’s 40th anniversary.
He produced and moderated cinema-themed radio and television programs which were broadcast by Gaul’s leading media outlets.
When announcing this year’s selection of films on Wednesday April 24, Cannes Film Festival president Gilles Jacob paid special fond tribute to Chazal.