Alain Corneau, an eclectic French film director and writer who in 1991 leaned on his own experience as a musician to make “Tous les Matins du Monde,” a critically praised movie about an 18th-century Baroque composer, has died in Paris. He was 67.
Artmedia, the talent agency that represented him, announced his death on Monday, saying the cause was cancer.
Mr. Corneau’s movies included science fiction, police thrillers, a look at office politics in Japan and a mood piece about ancient India, but his big success was “Tous les Matins,” which took its title from a sentence in the novel by the same name by Pascal Quignard. That sentence, reflecting the mystical fatalism of a main character, is sometimes translated as “Every morning on Earth is irrevocable.”
The film was nominated for 11 César awards, the French equivalent of the Oscar, and won 7, including best film, best director and best music. In the year after it was released in France, it sold more than two million tickets there, a very good result for a non-American film. It was shown in 31 countries, including the United States, where it was well reviewed.
“Many people got emotional about this film, and that made it possible for it to escape cult status,” Mr. Corneau said of the movie’s broad success, speaking in an interview with The New York Times in 1992.
The movie concerned the relationship between the Versailles court composer Marin Marais and his teacher Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe. It helped inspire renewed interest in French Baroque music, and its soundtrack reached No. 2 on French sales charts, displacing all but Michael Jackson.
Mr. Corneau’s painstaking attention to detail included requiring that all the principal actors take six months of arduous lessons to learn the fingering for playing the viola de gamba, a bowed, fretted, stringed instrument used primarily in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
A sharp departure from cinematic convention was the six-minute opening sequence, which has been described as one of the longest extreme close-ups of a major star ever filmed. The face was that of the actor Gérard Depardieu, and it was hardly pretty: he was made up to look artificially aged and had teary eyes.
Another novel decision was casting Mr. Depardieu’s 21-year-old son, Guillaume, to play Marais at different stages of life. Mr. Corneau explained that he wanted to avoid the usual shock to audiences when young and old versions of a character do not match. (The younger Mr. Depardieu died in 2008.)
“Corneau pursued an unceasing investigation into what makes humans human,” President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said in a statement on Monday.
Alain Corneau was born in Orléans, France, on Aug. 7, 1943. He was introduced to jazz by American soldiers and began playing the drums and piano. He later expanded his musical enthusiasms to Baroque and Indian music, and saw intriguing connections between these idioms and modern jazz.
He retained his interest in music even after going to Paris to study filmmaking. He tried unsuccessfully to make a documentary in New York and to adapt a novel for the screen in Los Angeles, he told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1993.
Mr. Corneau worked as an assistant director on Costa Gavras’s film “L’Aveu” (“The Confession”) in 1970. In 1973 he made his first film, “France, Inc.,” a science fiction picture that was well reviewed but commercially unsuccessful. He moved on to a series of three noir movies.
The New York Times movie critic Vincent Canby panned all of them, praising the third, “Choice of Arms” (1981), only for Mr. Corneau’s “talent for persuading otherwise sensible actors to work for him.” The star-laden cast included Yves Montand, Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu.
But David Ansen, writing in Newsweek, said that Mr. Corneau had gotten far more out of these “indispensable Gallic icons” than their signatures on employment contracts.
“Once these larger-than-life figures are set on their fatal collision course, ‘Choice of Arms’ moves with contained fury toward a series of unforeseen, shattering climaxes,” Mr. Ansen wrote.
Mr. Corneau’s other films included “Fort Saganne” (1984), a lusty three-hour romance starring Ms. Deneuve and Mr. Depardieu that at the time had the biggest budget of any French film in history. It opened the Cannes International Film Festival.
Mr. Corneau is survived by his wife, the director, producer and screenwriter Nadine Trintignant. Information about other survivors was not available.
Mr. Corneau’s last film, “Love Crime,” tells of the caustic conflict between two women in an office and turns into a whodunit. It will be a featured presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival next month.
“Corneau’s sober direction and a dreamlike, jazzy score should have ‘Crime’ committed in plenty of art houses outside France,” Variety said in its review.