|Born in Berkeley California of Irish and French descent in 1928 and brought up in Oregon, award-winning film director James Ivory was also an American in Paris for over 50 years.|
|The Arts Arena ||
Co-founder with Ismail Merchant of the world-renowned film production company Merchant Ivory, he counts among his prizewinning films A Room with a View, Howards End and The Remains of the Day, all three of which earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Director. He has directed six different actors in Oscar-nominated performances—Vanessa Redgrave, Denholm Elliott, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Joanne Woodward, and Anthony Hopkins—and his list of nominations and awards for Best Film and Best Director is encyclopedic: Golden Globe Awards from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association; the Cannes Film Festival’s coveted Palme d’Or; the Venice Film Festival Award, the London Critics Circle Film Award; the Critic’s Circle Film Section of Great Britain; the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA); the National Board of Review; Italy’s Donatello Prize; and the Directors Guild of America’s highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award.
Known for the visual beauty, intelligent themes, craftsmanship, and shrewd casting of its films, Merchant Ivory holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema history. Until Merchant's death in 2005, it produced over 40 films, most with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and a number set in Paris. Their long partnership earned them 33 Academy Award nominations, and multiple Oscars for Howards End and A Room with a View (Best Actress, Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design).
Francophone and Francophile, Ivory first went to Paris more than 60 years ago, then lived there with Merchant in a Left Bank apartment near Saint Germain des Près on and off from 1980 until Merchant’s death in 2005. Ivory has directed French actors ranging from Leslie Caron and Isabelle Adjani to Thierry Lhermitte and Charlotte Gainsbourg. He worked extensively with the renowned French producer and European Film Academy chairman Humbert Balsan, of whom he said, “He’s made all the right doors swing open for more than twenty years. Where would we be without him, I wonder?”*(1) His longtime director of photography is Pierre Lhomme, and a number of the films deal with events in the French capital or are filmed in and around it.
Among James Ivory’s “Paris Films” are:
Quartet (1981) starring Isabelle Adjani, Anthony Higgins, Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, Pierre Clementi, Daniel Mesguich, and Armelia McQueen.
The first Merchant Ivory film in Paris was adapted from the 1928 autobiographical novel by Jean Rhys. Quartet is a love quadrangle, set in the Golden Age of Paris, Hemingway's "moveable feast" of café culture and extravagant nightlife, glitter and literati. Exploring the vast territory between the "nice" and the "good" and between outward refinement and inner darkness, the film paints the contours of something sinister beneath the polished brasses and brasseries. Isabelle Adjani won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance.
Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990) starring Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.
Walter and India Bridge are a Midwestern American couple struggling to keep up with the changing world around them in 1930s America. Shot on location in Kansas City and in Paris (in this film, Merchant Ivory adds the Louvre to its peerless list of shooting sites), the film was powerfully received at the box office and greeted with rave reviews. "With the quiet assurance of a perfect work of art," one critic wrote, "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge sweeps all other contenders off the screen to become the best movie of the year." Joanne Woodward received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and the New York Society of Film Critics Award for her performance.
Jefferson in Paris (1995) starring Nick Nolte, James Earl Jones, Daniel Mesguich, Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlotte de Turckheim, Lambert Wilson, Elsa Zyberstein, Jean-Pierre
Aumont, Simon Callow, Martine Chevalier, Jean Dautremay, Valerie Lang, with many of the supporting actors being from the Comédie-Française.
Set in the period 1784–1789, the film portrays Jefferson when he was US minister to France at Versailles before the French Revolution, when French liberals and intellectuals hoped he would lead them away from the corruption of the court of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and toward a more democratic form of government. Jefferson was still in Paris when the Bastille fell on July 14, 1789, and the film resounds throughout with revolutionary rumblings and upheavals. It also shows Jefferson’s personal life as a lonely widower who becomes involved with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, his late wife’s half-sister. Shot on location in Paris and the Palace of Versailles, featuring the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier performed by the American-born French conductor William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, the film premiered at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.
Surviving Picasso (1996) starring Anthony Hopkins, Natasha McElhone, Julianne Moore, Joss Ackland.
Even before Picasso's death in 1973, some of those who knew him, including at least two of the women who shared his life, had published their personal accounts of what it was like to be intimate with the man many consider the greatest artist of the twentieth century. The most striking of these was Francoise Gilot's Life with Picasso, which appeared in 1964. The two had met in a Left Bank café; she became his mistress from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, and bore him two children. Shot in Paris and in the south of France, Surviving Picasso tells the story of Gilot, the one lover who was not destroyed by Picasso and walked away strong enough to withstand his ferocious cruelty and move on with her life.
A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries (1998) starring Kris Kristofferson, Barbara Hershey, Leelee Sobieski, Jesse Bradford, Anthony Routh Costanzo, Dominique Blanc, Virginie Ledoyen, Samuel Gruen, Luisa Conlon.
This story of an American family living in Paris in the mid-sixties is based on the semi-autobiographical tale of Kaylie Jones, the daughter of novelist James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line. Told from the point of view of the daughter, Channe, it shows Bill Willis, a successful expatriate writer, his wife, Marcella, and their family, and opens on the day five-year old Benoît, a French orphan, is adopted into it. This is a loving, united family, but like many foreigners caught between two cultures, Channe and Benoît (now called “Billy”) are not sure whether they are French or American, and we follow them as the innocence of childhood gives way to the awkwardness of adolescence. When Bill’s health begins to fail, the family moves to Long Island, where the children are cruelly treated as outsiders. “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries doesn’t tell of anything big or earthshaking, but, in its careful portrayal of life, it offers something equally precious - an insight into the human experience.” (James Berardinelli).
Le Divorce (2003) from the book by Diane Johnson, a long-time Paris resident, starring Naomi Watts, Kate Hudson, Glenn Close, Sam Waterson, Leslie Caron, Jean-Marc Barr, Thierry Lhermitte, Melvil Poupaud.
In this dramatic comedy, two American sisters find themselves in a maelstrom of Parisian and amorous intrigues, in which culture shock mixes with passion to a multiplying effect. A comedy of manners dealing with money, marriage, morals, sex and social relations, Le Divorce casts light on the life of Americans living in the foreign world that is Paris. "What we get is a froth of fun and heartbreak, a fantastic view of the French, the gorgeous mise en scene of Paris, and some of the funniest stuff I've ever enjoyed on screen. This is a simply exquisite, compelling film… director James Ivory deserves kudos once again." (New York Post)
The six Paris films were featured in a Merchant Ivory Festival organized by The Arts Arena in Paris in 2010. Opening night, held at the US Ambassador’s residence on James Ivory’s birthday, was attended by Ivory, actors Leslie Caron, Olivia De Havilland, Melville Poupaud, author Diane Johnson, and photography director Pierre Llomme.
(1) James Ivory in Conversation: How Merchant Ivory Makes Its Movies