One of my earliest Movie Posters of the Week, a few years ago, was for a stunning poster for Bresson’s Pickpocket. Back then I noted that it was “designed by one Christian Broutin. It turns out that Broutin (who was born in 1933 and only 26 when he designed it) also designed the conceptually similar poster for Jules and Jim, another of my all-time favorite French affiches.” In the comments somebody asked if I knew anything else about Broutin but I did not and could not find out much more on the web other than that he was also a children’s book illustrator.
A few months ago I came across another great poster attributed to Broutin and in my search for a better quality image for the poster I discovered his website (“Welcome to the site of Christian Broutin, maxi-realist painter, illustrator, creator of stamps”) which told me that Christian Broutin is alive and well, now aged 79, living outside Paris and still a working illustrator. I emailed him and we struck up a conversation—me in my broken French—about his life and work.
Over 12 years, from 1954 to 1966, Broutin produced over 100 movie posters but his best known, and arguably his masterpiece, is his poster for Jules and Jim which he created 50 years ago (the film premiered on January 23, 1962). With its perfectly Truffautian combination of classicism and modernism, its vibrant color, and the intoxicating joie de vivre of Jeanne Moreau’s Catherine, it is one of the great movie posters. Winner of the Prix Toulouse-Lautrec in 1963, the poster is so well-recognized today that it featured not only as a dominant piece of set design in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky but also as a deux ex machina in the film’s plot (Tom Cruise’s character fabricates false memories of a beloved from elements of pop culture, and some of his memories of Penelope Cruz’s character are borrowed from Jeanne Moreau’s demeanor in the enormous framed poster in his bedroom).
Despite the fact that in the early 60s it was René Ferracci who was the great in-demand designer of the nouvelle vague, as a friend of Broutin he entrusted him with the Jules and Jim poster. After a first draft in which Broutin used torn cutouts of photos of the three main protagonists, Ferracci declared “no, Truffaut has become someone important, we must do something more classical.” As a result Broutin decided to focus on Jeanne Moreau and tried a more painterly approach. (He also actually watched the film, apparently contrary to the practices of the time.)
The following exchanges are translated from French.
NOTEBOOK: You were quite young when you began to design posters, is that correct? How did you get started?
CHRISTIAN BROUTIN: Yes, I was young when I made my first poster in 1954: Fair Wind to Java, with Fred McMurray. I was 21 years old.
I started by doing what one did at that time: I visited all the studios until one of them entrusted me with doing a poster. I did one and then a second and then a third… eventually I had made 100.
NOTEBOOK: Tell me a little about the Jules and Jim poster and whether you collaborated at all with Truffaut.
BROUTIN: I met François Truffaut briefly after a screening of a rough cut of Love at Twenty, to show him my mock-ups*. He looked at them and said “Ah, I love that one” and then went back to work. As for Jeanne Moreau, I never met her until very recently, at a celebration of her 60 years in cinema at the Cinémathèque Française, 50 years after making the poster!
For the poster I only used a photograph of her face, everything else was drawn. The early mock-ups were entirely drawn.
NOTEBOOK: There are two designs in existence for the poster, one with the green background and one mostly black and white.
BROUTIN: The green is the grande 120 X 160 cm (47" x 63") while the white one is a small affichette 60 X 80 (23.5" x 31.5"). Posters then were printed in offset but most were lithographs. Everything had to be redrawn for different sizes, even the photomontages!
NOTEBOOK: I love your poster for Pickpocket. Is it true that that design was only used in Argentina and not in France?
BROUTIN: That is my favorite poster! There was never a large version, only a small version was ever printed in France. At that time when one worked on a film you did several designs and they could end up being used in various mediums.
NOTEBOOK: I also really like your poster for I Spit on Your Grave, (seen below left),[the film of Boris Vian’s novel which was notorious for Vian having died in a state of apoplexy at a screening of the film]. I had never seen that before finding it on your website. There is another, less interesting, poster in existence for that film; was yours the first?
BROUTIN: My design for I Spit on Your Grave was used to advertise the film in the press and on the cover of the magazine La Cinématographie Française. The reasons why one design was eventually used over another were always very mysterious. You could present 5 or 6 mock-ups and you weren’t paid unless a design was accepted.
NOTEBOOK: I love the photographs on your website of your posters on billboards on the streets of Paris. Can you tell me about them?
BROUTIN: In 1959 I did some mock-ups for Warner Brothers for The FBI Story. They took a long time to make a decision and I was on vacation in the mountains when they accepted my design. It had to be printed immediately and I was unreachable so the printer had to take my A4 size drawing and turn it into a 4 sheet billboard (about 12' by 8'). My sketch was made very quickly, very freely, but they redrew it very faithfully in the large format. When I saw it in the street I was shocked! I’d never seen one of my posters looking so strong and spontaneous. It was an experience that I kept with me and which served me in my later work.
NOTEBOOK: Why did you stop designing movie posters?
BROUTIN: I stopped because the major distributor Cinedis went out of business and because René Ferraci (who was a close friend) had practically monopolized all the work and producers only wanted to work with him. Around this time I left Paris and started to concentrate on book illustration. Then I worked in commercial advertising for a while. At the same time I have always been a painter.
NOTEBOOK: You said that you made 100 posters, is that 100 that you designed or 100 that were actually printed and used?
BROUTIN: Yes... I made a hundred film posters which were printed and used. They have not all been catalogued and I rediscover some from time to time, especially through the internet.
NOTEBOOK: According to IMDb your career in film didn’t end when you stopped designing posters. You made a short film La corrida in 1975 and is it true that you acted in Raúl Ruiz’s 1979 film The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting?
BROUTIN: You are a good detective ... The answer to both questions is yes! In 1975 I participated in a French television program called Tac au Tac (Tit for Tat) which was a sort of “duel” between two artists. I was pitted against the cartoonist Claude Serre. [You can watch this wonderful program here.]
Following Tac au Tac, Jean Frappat, the producer of the show, asked me if I had an idea for a short film. The result was La corrida, a film of a bullfight seen from the point of view of the bull. I made several large drawings that the camera could explore, with close ups and medium shots, wide shots, pans, zooms in and out. It worked well since the film won the Prix Jean Vigo and was part of the official selection at Cannes in 1975. [You can see an excerpt here.]
Then one day, in the corridors of France-Télévision, I ran into Raúl Ruiz whom I did not know. He stopped and asked me “Do you want to play a knight in my next movie?” I accepted, of course. The film was shot in a large Parisian apartment that had once belonged to Gustave Eiffel.
NOTEBOOK: Did Ruiz know you or did he just like your “look”?
BROUTIN: No, he didn’t know who I was, it was my appearance that interested him!
NOTEBOOK: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
You can see more of Christian Broutin’s posters as well as his book illustrations and his designs for stamps on his website.