Filmmaker remembered most for 'Cyrano'

Rene Cleitman, veteran Gallic producer of some 23 pics including Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Oscar-winning “Cyrano,” died of cancer Dec. 14 in Paris. He was 64.

Over two decades, Cleitman worked with an array of prominent helmers, producing Bertrand Blier’s “Tenue de Soiree,” Patrice Leconte’s “Monsieur Hire,” Bertrand Tavernier’s “Life and Nothing But” and “The Bait” (1995), and Nikita Mikhalkov’s “Urga.”

In a foray into U.S. indie production, Cleitman teamed with Gerard Depardieu, spending a year and a half in the States to produce Nick Cassavetes’ first two films “Unhook the Stars” and “She’s So Lovely.”

However the latter part of Cleitman’s career was marred by Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”

The $32 million Johnny Depp starrer, at the time one of Europe’s most ambitious indie productions, was halted three weeks after going into production in 2000 when co-star Jean Rochefort, playing Cervantes’ deluded knight Quixote, hurt his back and could no longer ride a horse.

Cleitman described the debacle as “the worst experience in my life.”

Three years later, a chapter of recent French production history came to an end with the closure of Hachette Premiere, the Lagardere Group’s 100%-owned film producing subsidiary that Cleitman had been running since creating it from scratch in 1981.

Cleitman segued into a new partnership with Luc Besson’s Europa Corp in the 50-50 owned Theus Productions, named after the hero of Jean Paul Rappeneau’s “A Horseman on the Roof.” But Cleitman’s illness cut short further projects after Jerome Bonnell’s sophomore pic “Les Yeux Clairs,” which will bow in France in March.

Cleitman came to the movie production business relatively late in life, a career change spurred by his friendship with Gallic industry chief Jean-Luc Lagardere.

Cleitman had worked for the Lagardere-owned Europe 1 radio station for 17 years, rising to the position of programming director, when cinephile Lagardere felt his group needed to be in the film-making business and entrusted Cleitman with Hachette Premiere’s launch.

“Jean-Luc Lagardere never put pressure on him to put profits first,” recalls a former colleague, “he and Cleitman cared about quality.”

However the Lagardere Group lost its interest in film production after Jean-Luc Lagardere died and his son, Arnaud, took over running the group.

As well as making movies, Cleitman also played a prominent role as a film biz lobbyist. He served as co- president of the BLOC, a body representing France’s indie film industry, between 1998-2000. He also co-founded and served as president of the European Producers Club from 1993-1998 and remained vice president until his death.

Two days before he passed away, from his hospital bed Cleitman was still enthusiastic about the film that was to have been his next project, with Gallic helmer Thomas Gilou.

He leaves a wife and two daughters.

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