Cinematographer Denys Clerval, AFC, has passed away

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The AFC’s members are deeply saddened to announce the death of their colleague and friend Denys Clerval on 9 June 2016 following a prolonged illness, at the age of 82. Denys Clerval was a loyal and long-standing member of our association, and enjoyed taking part in our family of cinematographers. As a cinematographer, he was particularly proud of his work on François Truffaut’s films Stolen Kisses (1968) and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), on René Allio’s film The Shameless Old Lady (1965), and Ruy Guerra’s film Erendira (1983).
Deny Clerval, à Paris, en février 2012 - Photo Pauline Maillet
Deny Clerval, à Paris, en février 2012
Photo Pauline Maillet

Born in 1934, Denys Robert Clerval studied cinematography at the School of the Rue Vaugirard alongside Yves Rodallec, Raymond Sauvaire, and Claude Zidi, and others who graduated in the class of 1953-1955. He was an assistant, alongside Jean-César Chiabaut and Sacha Vierny, on the set of Alain Resnais’ 1959 film Hiroshima My Love. He began working on short films in 1960. Amongst them were films by Claude Guillemot, Jean Herman, and René Allio, for whom he shot The Shameless Old Lady, his first feature-length film as director of photography.

After that, he went on to film François Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses and Mississippi Mermaid, René Allio’s Les Camisards and Rude journée pour la reine, Ruy Guerra’s Erendira, and Alain Cuny’s visual poem The Annunciation of Marie, alongside Caroline Champetier, AFC, and Julien Hirsch, AFC. His career, which included over 40 films, ended with Claude d’Anna’s Daisy and Mona in 1994 and Les Petits riches in 1997, directed respectively for the cinema and for television.

In 1973-1974, Denys Clerval was the assistant producer on two television shows dedicated to Henri Alekan and Claude Renoir, directed by Geroges Paumier, for a series on great cinematographers that was never followed-up on.
He was particularly interested in stage lighting, and between 1974 and 1976, he designed the lighting for three stage plays and a ballet, and in 1992, co-authored with François Porcile, two 60-minute-long documentaries on theatrical lighting, entitled Jours et nuits du théâtre, Part 1 – Apprivoiser la lumière, Part 2- La lumière à l’affiche.

Denys Clerval and the AFC

Denys Clerval was one of the very first active members of the AFC when it was founded in 1990. He was elected to the board of directors in 1992, and served on the board until 1994. Denys was part of the editorial board for the first issue of Cahiers de l’AFC (the prehistoric ancestor of our current revue Lumières), which was published in June 1991 and followed by three other issues until December 1995. He was also part of the editorial board for the 3rd and 4th issues of Lumières.
In the 3rd issue, one finds long extracts from an interview Denys conducted in 1991 with cinematographer Philippe Agostini in preparation for a television show he intended to direct on the passion of being a cinematographer seen through two generations, Philippe, the father, and Claude and Yves, his sons.

On 7 November 2014, Denys participated in a round-table discussion organized as part of the Journées Truffaut by the Conservatoire des techniques cinématographiques of the Cinémathèque Française, and which was proceeded by a conference led by Bernard Benoliel and Laurent Mannoni on the question “Truffaut Technician ?” alongside Pierre-William Glenn, AFC, Dominique Le Rigoleur, AFC, Caroline Champetier, AFC, Yanne Dedet and Jean-François Stévenin. Watch or re-watch “Tourner, monter” (the video of this round-table discussion) on the website of the Cinémathèque.

He was a life-long cinephile, and we will never again meet paths with his frail silhouette, we will never again share his insatiable curiosity for the cinema, neither at the conferences and screenings organized by the Cinémathèque Française, of which he was a member, nor at the advanced screenings of the AFC, of which ne never missed a single one, always ready to lend an ear, with a friendly word that belied the attention he paid to his peers’ work, until his illness deprived us bit by bit of his warm and courteous presence. Each time he visited us, he proved his indefatigable attachment to our association by asking, “So, how is everything at the AFC ?”.

Denys was cremated at the crematorium of the Père Lachaise Cemetery on Wednesday, 15 June 2016 and his funerary urn was placed in the family tomb on Saturday, 18 June, in the Montchauvet Cemetery in the Yvelines.

Click here to see Denys Clerval’s complete cinematography.

(Translated from French by Alexander Baron-Raiffe)