On the eve of the Cannes Film Festival, one of the most influential fixtures on the international film circuit has died. Pierre Rissient, a critic, programmer, distributor, press attaché, assistant director, director and talent advocate, passed away overnight last night. He was 81. Bertrand Tavernier announced the news in a tweet that was relayed by France’s Institut Lumière.
Rissient began his career programming Paris’ Mac Mahon cinema in the 1950s and went on to wear several hats within the industry. He was an assistant to Jean-Luc Godard on Breathless and helped bring international recognition to such filmmakers as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Jerry Schatzberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Jane Campion and Abbas Kiarostami. Eastwood, who Rissient met in the 1970s, dubbed him “Mr Everywhere.”
The movie lover was an artistic adviser to the Cannes Film Festival and is credited with being instrumental in bringing Campion’s The Piano to the Croisette. She remains the only woman ever to have won the Palme d’Or. Other filmmakers upon whose careers he had an impact include Hou Hsiao Hsien, Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou.
A film he directed, Cinq Et La Peau, had already been planned to screen in the Cannes Classics section of the festival next week. It originally ran in Un Certain Regard in 1982.
He was also the subject of two documentaries, one by critic Todd McCarthy (Pierre Rissient: Man Of Cinema) which ran in Cannes Classics 2007; and 2016’s Gentleman Rissient, co-directed by Benoît Jacquot, Pascal Mérigeau and Guy Seligmann, which also screened in Cannes Classics.
Tavernier tweeted today “Pierre Rissient died last night. His wife, Yung He, has asked me to let you know and, thinking of her, it is with infinite sadness that I write this message. Pierre was a great human being and an absolute cinéphile. We mourn him.”
Telluride, too, will have a big hole in it this year after Rissient’s passing. As Deadline’s Pete Hammond recalled, he was a bigger than life presence there, as familiar and expected sight as the Colorado mountains, and even has his own theater named for him. In the 1990s, he shared this trademark observation during Telluride: “It is not enough to like a film. You must like it for the right reasons.”
Former Cannes Film Festival President Gilles Jacob also directed a note to Eastwood, tweeting:
Jacob further called Rissient “a super discoverer of filmmakers with an inestimable flair and curiosity. When he helped someone (Jane Campion) he took them under his wing and helped them to deploy their art. He loved and supported the Cannes Film Festival, I bear witness with emotion and sadness.”