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Historical Dictionary

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COUTARD, RAOUL (1924–)

Famous French nouvelle vague director of photography and war photographer during the Indochina War. In 1945, he signed up in the Expeditionary Corps to fight the Japanese, but ended up in Indochina where he remained for a decade covering the war against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as a photographer. During this time, he spent some five years working as an official photographer for the French army and another five years as a freelancer for Life, Paris Match, Indochine Sud-Est Asiatique, and Radar. In 1953–54, he produced a short documentary in and on Laos for the French Ministry of Information, entitled La section d’action psychologique. With Jean-Michel de Kermadec he made another documentary on the Chinese city of Cholon near Saigon. In 1958, he became a director of film photography without ever having used a movie camera. Pierre Schoendoerffer, another veteran of the Indochina War and official photographer during the war, asked him to direct the photography for La passe du diable. From there, Coutard went on to become an active member of the nouvelle vague in French cinema. He was director of photography for 17 Godard and four Truffaut films (including À bout de souffle and Tirez sur le pianiste). He collaborated with Pierre Schoendoerffer on the Le crabe tambour. Indeed, he shared the latter’s heroization of the abandoned soldier and anti-communism (which made for apparently lively but friendly exchanges with Godard and Truffaut). Coutard directed his own film on the American war in Vietnam, entitled Hoa Binh (1970). Instead of focusing on the lost soldiers preoccupying Schoendoerffer’s films, Coutard examined the effects of war on the forgotten children at the local level. The film won the Jean Vigo prize and received an Academy Award nomination for best foreign-language film in 1971, as the war for Vietnam continued. See also CINEMA; COMICS AND WAR; CULTURE; NOVELS; PYSCHOLOGICAL WARFARE.