One of France's most unconventional authors

Alain Robbe-Grillet, one of France’s most unconventional and controversial authors, screenwriters and film directors of the post-war era, died in the western French city of Caen on February 18. He was 85.

Educated as an agronomist, Robbe-Grillet had already published four novels, earning an international reputation as a pioneer of the “new novel” movement of unconventional narrative forms and often scandalous subject matter, before coming to the cinema as a screenwriter of one of the most controversial and innovative European films of the early 60s. Alain Resnais’s “Last Year in Marienbad” (1961).

“Marienbad’s” seeming near-plotless, non-linear telling of the interactions between three main characters at a social gathering in an unidentified chateau was seen by its French distributors, Cocinor, as so uncommercial that the film was nearly never given a theatrical release.

Robbe-Grillet’s own reputation as a writer-director was largely due to the success of his black-and-white works of the 1960s, including L’Immortelle (1963) and Trans-Europ-Express (1966), which often made no pretense of having logical narrative consistencies.

His color films of the 1970s and 1980s including “Successive Slidings of Pleasure” (1974) “Playing with Fire” (1975) and “The Beautiful Prisoner” (1983) typically explored sado-masochism and sexual obsession, were often dismissed by mainstream French film critics and historians as both impenetrable and self-indulgent.

Already a recipient of the Legion of Honor, in 2004 he was elected one of only forty so-called “immortals” of the Academie Francaise — the elite 40-member body that acts as guardian of the French language — but never took his seat. Long renowned for his love of provocation, he said it was because he refused to wear the Academie’s elaborate green uniform.

He is survived by his wife, novelist Catherine Robbe-Grillet.

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