The Festival’s section devoted to historical retrospectives is a tribute to the prolific and brilliant Sacha Guitry, actor, screenwriter, playwright and director, among the most fascinating and versatile personalities of 20th-century French theatre and cinema.
Sacha Guitry (St. Petersburg 1985 – Paris 1957), born Alexandre-Pierre Georges Guitry, was a French actor, screenwriter and director. The son of famous actor Lucien Guitry, from a very young age he was involved with the theatrical milieu of the time. After several years in St. Petersburg, his family moved to Paris in 1891. Here, Sacha entered boarding school but showed little inclination for studies. Instead, he devoted himself to theatre, writing plays and performing comedies at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, directed by his father. Due to strong personal disagreements, however, the two fell apart. The separation would last several years. At only seventeen, he wrote and performed La Page, and three years later he became known to the general public with Nono, achieving great success. His contemptuous and sarcastic aristocratic ways and brilliant elocution made him a leading figure of Parisian life in the early twentieth century. A master of the vaudeville genre, he churned out plays on repeat, bringing the echoes of his private life to the stage: he went from one marriage to the next, fuelling both the gossip news and his own theatre’s box office.
In 1915, he tackled cinema for the first time by directing Ceux de chez nous, a collection of portraits of great French artists of the time, with the intention of demonstrating – at the height of World War I – the artistic superiority of France over its enemies. After this initial experience, he quit filmmaking until 1934, by which time sound had established itself in film production. After a couple of tries, he shot Bonne chance! (1935), a light, sparkling comedy about a man and woman’s journey after a lottery win, with the understanding that there would only be a platonic relationship between them. Although constructed as a theatrical play, the film is already fully representative of Guitry’s cinematic style, characterized by the presence of a ham with inexhaustible verve, witty dialogue and rapid-fire jokes, but also by a sense of light cynicism and a bittersweet undertone.
Until the outbreak of World War II, Guitry filmed several comedies starring opposite his wife Jacqueline Delubac, becoming a master of entertainment cinema and an innovator of cinematic language, as evidenced by the inventive opening credits, extremely free prologues and narrative acrobatics. In Confessions of a Cheat (Le roman d’un tricheur, 1936), a film based on his only novel written and published in 1934, the narrative unravels through the predominant use of images, accompanied by the author’s voiceover as commentary. In the midst of World War II, while the Germans occupied France, Guitry reached the peak of fame, continuing to act, direct films, travel the world, hosting multiple charity galas, and living in comfort: a lifestyle that stirred some discontent and that he wouldn’t be forgiven. After Liberation, he was among the first on the purge lists. Suspected of collaboration, he spent sixty days in prison and was then rehabilitated thanks to his efforts in helping people escape persecution. He went back to filmmaking in 1947: among his last works – permeated by a fierce irony and a devastating bitterness – particularly worthy of mention is La poison (1951), starring a spectacular Michel Simon as a husband who contrives to kill his wife to guarantee himself immunity.
Sacha Guitry died on July 24, 1957. He lies in the family tomb in the Montmartre cemetery, where François Truffaut, his great admirer, was also laid to rest.