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Daniel Toscan du Plantier

by Ronald Bergan

Daniel Toscan du Plantier.At this year’s Berlin Film Festival, the flamboyant French producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier was very visible promoting French films with his usual charm and aplomb. He had successfully negotiated, after a four-year struggle, a French-German Academy of the Cinema, which would create greater financial and artistic co-operation between the two countries. At a dinner, after having attended the screening of Patrice Chereau’s Son Frere, he was struck down by a fatal heart attack. For many of those that had seen du Plantier, with his long grey hair and military moustache, at international film festivals over decades, it was surprising to learn that he was only 61.

For the last 15 years, du Plantier had been the creative and energetic President of Unifrance, the French film promotion agency. As such he was seen as an ambassador for French films and European cinema as a whole, always putting artistic merit before commercial considerations.

Claiming to be descended from Chevalier Bayard, the valorous 16th century knight, du Plantier was born in Savoy. He studied at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris and in 1969 became advertising manager at the daily newspaper France-Soir. In 1975, he became deputy director-general of Gaumont, the giant French film company. In this post, he provided financial backing for movies by Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander), Federico Fellini (Casanova, And The Ship Sails On, City of Women), François Truffaut (The Last Metro) and rescued Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985) with nearly $5 million of French money. He was also a staunch supporter and friend of the difficult Maurice Pialat, the majority of whose films he produced, first at Gaumont and then as head of Erato Films from 1985 to 1988.

Van Gogh.It is bitterly ironic that du Plantier died exactly a month to the day after Pialat. During the making of Pialat’s Van Gogh (1991), du Plantier compared his relationship with the director to that of Théo with Vincent. At Pialat's death, he pointed out that Theo had outlived his brother by only six months. ‘It will be interesting to see where I am in six months,’ he commented.

Du Plantier’s love of opera compelled him to produce Joseph Losey’s Don Giovanni (1979) as well as Luigi Comencini’s La Bohème (1988), Madame Butterfly (1995), directed by Frédéric Mitterrand, nephew of the former President, and Benoît Jacquot's Tosca (2001).

There was something operatic about his life, and his pursuit of beautiful women almost Don Juanesque. He had well-publicised affairs with actresses Isabelle Huppert, Isabella Rossellini and several other glamorous stars. While still in his teens he married the actress Marie-France Barrault, and then Francesca Comencini, both marriages ending in divorce. His third wife, Sophie Bouniol, was found murdered in Ireland in 1996, her battered body was found on a remote road near the cottage where she lived. The case remains unsolved. In 1998, he married his fourth wife, Melitta Nikolic, who survives him along with his three sons and two daughters by his previous wives.

Ronald Bergan

Daniel Toscan du Plantier, film producer and promoter; born 7 April, 1941; died February 11, 2003.

A version of this text appeared in The Guardian.



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