"Jean de Florette" director Claude Berri dies

PARIS (Reuters) - French director and producer Claude Berri, whose films included the international hit “Jean de Florette,” has died, the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday. He was 74.

French director, producer and actor Claude Berri arrives for the screening of "Che" by U.S director Steven Soderbergh at the 61st Cannes Film Festival in this May 21, 2008 file picture. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier/Files

Berri was hospitalized at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris at the weekend with a serious neurological condition.

“His engaging personality and immense talent will be missed by all of French cinema,” Culture Minister Christine Albanel said in a statement.

Among Berri’s most popular films were the adaptations of Marcel Pagnol’s tragic tales of Provencal life, “Jean de Florette” and “Manon des Sources,” which starred Gerard Depardieu, Yves Montand and Emmanuelle Beart.

He won an Oscar for his first short, “Le Poulet” and went on to make a series of pictures ranging from an adaptation of Emile Zola’s “Germinal” to the gritty thriller “Tchao Pantin,” (So Long, Stooge) starring the iconoclastic comedian Coluche.

In addition, he was a prolific producer, whose credits included major international productions like Roman Polanski’s 1979 drama “Tess” as well as last year’s “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis,” the most successful French film ever.

But he was also involved in lower-key successes, such as “La graine et le mulet,” (The secret of the grain) directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, the story of an Arab immigrant who dreams of setting up a couscous restaurant and runs up against racism.

“He could work in every register and make us laugh or cry but above all he made his public think and ask questions, he educated the viewer,” the Elysee Palace said.

French actress Josiane Balasko, who directed and starred in “Gazon Maudit” (Accursed Lawn), a dark comedy about lesbians produced by Berri, said he had done much to help directors.

“I am very sad about his death because he was one of the great producers who allowed directors to make their films by trying to dream as much as possible. He really gave them the means to achieve it,” she told RTL radio.

Writing by James Mackenzie