Raoul Coutard, Cinematographer of the French New Wave, Dies at 92


Raoul Coutard, left, on the set of “The Soft Skin” in 1964.

Athos Films, via Photofest

Raoul Coutard, whose innovative camera work for Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut made him the leading cinematographer of the French New Wave, died on Tuesday in Labenne, near Bayonne, France. He was 92.

His death was reported by Agence France-Presse.

Mr. Coutard, a former photojournalist in French Indochina, had never operated a movie camera when he was asked to “do some photos” for “The Devil’s Pass,” an adventure film being made in Afghanistan in 1958.

“I agreed, but if I had known that the job was actually director of photography and that the film was to be in Cinemascope, I would never have said yes,” he told The Guardian in 2001.

After the film was nominated for the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, its producer, Georges de Beauregard, hired Mr. Coutard as a cinematographer for his next project, “Breathless,” Mr. Godard’s directorial debut. It proved to be a turning point in French cinema.

Shot in documentary style, in natural light, with a constantly moving hand-held camera, “Breathless” overthrew the polished aesthetics of 1950s French film, introducing a B-movie rawness and energy.

“We tried to make it like we were a news crew,” Mr. Coutard told The Houston Chronicle in 2010. “I handled the camera and the lighting, and I had one assistant who was the focus puller. There was no gaffer for the light, and just one grip who was moving around equipment.”