Yesterday morning, a thoroughly, utterly dry text message brought me the news: Claudine Paquot is no more. All things considered, such a terse and irrevocable formulation seems preferable to me, the brutality of the news nullifying its emotional impact. An hour later, I could no longer hold back my tears, as the shock of losing a friend sunk in. So it is true: Claudine is no more. She’s no longer alive. The struggle against the disease that invaded her body three years ago is over. She fought with all her strength – God knows how much strength she displayed! – believing to the end that she could prevail. Claudine was a woman who could not, would not be defeated. And yet…
Friends and relatives, all of us who knew her long, witnessed her battle against death with impotence yet much admiration. Her courage and energy were astounding. She never gave up on anything, be it life, laughter or love – be it her passionate love for her work as a publisher.
I first met her in 1977, following the recommendation of a friend, Annie Cot. Claudine was a graduate of the Institute d’Etudes Politiques, and Cahiers du cinéma were about to expand, after years of stagnation and impoverishment. I hired her to take charge of the picture library. Her name first appeared under the headline: “Documentation – Picture Library”, on the masthead of the February 1978 issue, which boasted a new layout. Claudine joined us at a time of new beginnings, to work on a new project whose crucial challenges we simply had to meet. From the get-go, she was up for it – and remained so for three decades. Claudine feared nothing and no one, believed in the project with all her might, never lost heart, always forged ahead, often displaying a gruff manner that only underscored her honesty and bravery. Never in my life have I met anyone so resolute and so reliable; you could always entrust the most arduous tasks to her: she would always hit the mark – obsessively, obstinately, stubbornly. She became one with the cause she had decided to espouse: Cahiers du cinéma.
A little later, I appointed her sub-editor, a responsibility she assumed for several years, assisting Serge Daney and myself with unparalleled loyalty. Claudine became passionate about Cahiers – she called it “La Revue” (“The Magazine”), which referred to the thing, the place, the mother ship, the shrine where we gathered. From that point on, she became forever the link between us all.
When she became pregnant with Pierre, her first son, she was at first shattered, instantly reckoning – barely out of the doctor’s office – that she would give birth during the Cannes Film Festival, which, to her mind, would be detrimental to “la revue”. Later on Alexandre was born, and she was an outstanding mother, lovingly caring for her two sons and Philippe, her husband.
Within “la revue” she became the pillar, the steady, organizing hand, exhibiting a rare and unfailing stamina. She had resolved once and for all that our motley crew of idiosyncratic personalities – cinema their common passion – would work on good terms with each other and abide by a few ground rules. It was a thankless and difficult task. Within the gang, within what is dubbed an editorial staff – Olivier Assayas, Alain Bergala, Jean-Claude Biette, Pascal Bonitzer, Jean-Louis Comolli, Michel Chion, Danièle Dubroux, Thérèse Giraud, Jean-Paul Fargier, Serge Le Péron, Yann Lardeau, Jean-Jacques Henry, Pascal Kané, Joël Magny, Jean Narboni, Jean-Pierre Oudard, Louis Skorecki, Guy-Patrick Sainderichin, Charles Tesson, without forgetting Bill Krohn, our loyal correspondent in Los Angeles; later on, the generation of Marc Chevrie, Antoine de Baecque, Frédéric Strauss, Nicolas Saada, Marie Anne Guérin, Hervé Le Roux, Bernard Benoliel, Thierry Jousse, Jean-Marc Lalanne, and so many others -, Claudine was the mainspring, possessed by an unshakable faith. As they will in any community – especially where males predominate – conflicts and rivalries tore Cahiers apart on a regular basis. In such occurrences, Claudine would avoid taking sides, convinced as she was that “la revue” was our common cause, our higher calling. She was grounded in Catholic education, and that was good.
At the end of the 1970s, we wished to develop a publishing department, to provide the magazine – finally a monthly once again – with special issues and companion books. Jean Narboni was entrusted with this responsibility, and, with Gallimard as co-publisher, developed a prestigious collection: Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, texts by Jean Giono, Nagisa Oshima or Jean Renoir on cinema, Michel Bouvier’s and Jean-Louis Leutrat’s Nosferatu, Jean Louis Schefer’s L’homme ordinaire du cinéma (“Cinema’s ordinary man”), Claude Ollier’s Souvenirs écran (“Screen Memories”). Two years later, the decision was made to continue this publishing venture alone. Alain Bergala then offered to publish a series of photography books, “Ecrits sur l’image” (“Writings about the Image”), and it was successfully launched with Raymond’s Depardon’s Correspondance new-yorkaise (“Letters from New York”). There were also books by Denis Roche, Jean-François Chevrier, Sophie Calle (Suite vénitienne, with a text by Jean Baudrillard), Le désert américain (“The American Desert”) by Raymond Depardon… Narboni and Bergala launched the collection “Ecrits” (“Writings”) – publishing works by Roger Leenhardt, André Bazin, Rossellini, Rohmer, Dreyer, Serge Daney, Jean Douchet… There was also the collection “Auteurs”, ran by Claudine and myself (thirty-odd titles); beautiful coffee-table books (such as Magnum Cinéma, to mention one among many), Godard par Godard, numerous essays (by Jacques Aumont, Dominique Païni, Michel Chion, Bernard Eisenschitz, Noël Simsolo, Jérôme Prieur, and many others), or the series “Auteurs au travail” (“Auteurs at Work”) (Truffaut, Welles, Scorsese, Cronenberg, Eastwood, Godard, etc.). Claudine was the one who launched “Petite bibliothèque des Cahiers du cinéma” (Cahiers du cinéma’s Pocket Library), a paperback collection bringing out screenplays and re-editing previously published books. We had acquired a taste for publishing film books – Claudine in particular. Today, Cahiers’s publishing catalogue is rich and wide-ranging, thanks in large part to Claudine Paquot’s contribution. I’m also aware of the decisive influence her hands-on editing approach had on many a writer: she gave them her heart and soul.
Nevertheless, I still remember our struggle when I tried convincing her to leave her editorial post at Cahiers in order to take over our publishing department. I felt Delphine Pineau – who eventually took over from Claudine – would be a perfect fit for the job. Claudine, however, was heartbroken at the thought of stepping away from “la revue”. Her reluctance was obvious, in spite of my reassurances that, instead of stepping away, she would be given ample opportunities to draw inspiration from the core of Cahiers contributors and collaborate with them on new projects. Convinced that she possessed the required qualities to become a publisher, I eventually forced my decision upon her and never looked back.
Obviously, the history of Cahiers du cinéma has been convoluted and complex, often punctuated by rifts, quarrels and reconciliations, the departure and arrival of contributing writers, the coexistence of the “older” and “younger” generations, the tragic passing of essential figures – Serge Daney, Alain Philippon, Iannis Katshanias, Philippe Arnaud, and, later, Jean-Claude Biette. All these events make up more than thirty years of our history. Claudine, steadfast in her commitment to “la revue”, served as our anchor point. She also took on additional responsibilities, with Alain Bergala and Thierry Jousse, as an administrator of “Les Amis des Cahiers du cinéma” (“The Friends of Cahiers du cinéma”)(1)— a rather difficult task, especially when Cahiers was bought by Le Monde (1998) and later on by Phaidon Press (2009). Throughout those years, Claudine had identified with “la revue”, and she became our living memory. And that is what we will remember: her faith, her generosity, her courage, her work ethic, her laughter. You could not have wished for a better human being than this lady, my friend for thirty years.
Translated by Bérénice Reynaud and Jean-Pierre Bedoyan. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author.