Former EuropaCorp CEO Christophe Lambert’s sudden death at the age of 51 from lung cancer stunned the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday.
In life, the dashing executive, whose penchant for expensive suits, relationships with top French politicians, such as former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and hot temper, rubbed some the wrong way. However, his death softened any lingering ill will. Along the Croisette, executives expressed shock or sadness for Lambert’s family. He leaves a wife, Marie Sara, the bullfighter, and four children.
Some said that they were too shaken to speak coherently. Those who released statements or worked with Lambert chose to emphasize the personal side of the hard-charging executive.
“He was, first and foremost, an incredibly devoted father and husband, and his family was most important to him; that will be his legacy,” said Tucker Tooley, the former Relativity president who helped establish a joint venture with EuropaCorp. “Christophe was also a uniquely talented filmmaker and charismatic leader. He will be deeply missed, and my thoughts are with his family.”
“He has been an incredible partner and most importantly a friend for many years now,” said Gregory Ouanhon, head of Fundamental Films.
Eric Altmayer, founder of “Saint Laurent” producer Mandarin Cinema, said that without Lambert’s drive the film about the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, which premiered at Cannes in 2014, could not have been made.
“Thanks to him we lived the unique adventure of this film. He was not an easy man but he was determined and courageous,” said Altmayer.
Lambert’s legacy is inextricably linked to his former business partner, director Luc Besson, with whom he oversaw EuropaCorp. He was remembered for his role in lobbying for the construction of the Cité du Cinéma, a sprawling film complex on the outskirts of Paris. The project, whose public financing has drawn controversy in France, had been a major ambition of Besson’s. Lambert also helped the director cobble together the $170 million budget for “Valerian,” an adaptation of the French science fiction comics series, and perhaps the biggest independently financed film in history. It will be released in 2017.
However, the relationship between Lambert and Besson eventually grew strained. Lambert was ousted from EuropaCorp in February, on the eve of Berlin Film Festival’s European Film Market — which he had registered for — and was replaced by former Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger. The moves prompted speculation that he was ousted after falling out with Besson. He insisted, nevertheless, that the departure was his idea. In a statement at the time, EuropaCorp said Lambert had left the company to concentrate on personal projects. Although best-know as a businessman, Lambert recently flexed his creative muscles, helping to create the premise for “Nine Lives” in which Kevin Spacey plays a tycoon who turns into a cat.