Christian Lara (born January 25, 1939, in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, French West Indies) was a prolific French film director, writer, cinematographer, and producer known by many as “the Father of French Antilles cinema.” His remarkable career spanned various countries and genres, leaving a lasting impact on the world of cinema.
Early Life and Career
Christian Lara’s journey in the world of entertainment began as a journalist for Le Figaro, a prominent French daily newspaper, in Paris, France. However, in 1973, he decided to transition to filmmaking, marking the start of his impressive cinematic career. His debut film, “Jeu de dames” (translated as “Dames play”), featured Georges de Caunes in a leading role.
During the same year, Lara delved into the trend of erotic films in Paris, directing “Les Infidèles” (translated as “The Unfaithfuls”) from a screenplay written by French erotic film director Daniel Daërt. Their collaboration continued, with Lara working as a camera operator on Daërt’s film “Cours du soir pour monsieur seul” (translated as “Night classes for lonely men”).
In 1976, Christian Lara embarked on a more personal project, teaming up with French actor Jacques Weber and newcomer Anne Parillaud to create “Un Amour de sable” (translated as “Sandy Love”).
Creating Antillean Cinema
Christian Lara was acutely aware of the underrepresentation of Creole people on French movie screens. Inspired by legendary cinematographer Ingmar Bergman’s advice, Lara decided to create authentic Antillean cinema. Bergman had once told him, “Only film what you truly know!”
For his series of Guadeloupean films, Lara crafted stories that reflected his home island’s unique culture and challenges. His first feature in this series, “Coco la Fleur, candidate”, was set during election time in Guadeloupe and featured Guadeloupean actors Greg Germain and Robert Liensol. Despite facing skepticism and production difficulties, the film was released on February 14, 1979, and received acclaim both in mainland France and its overseas territories.
Lara continued to explore the complexities of Guadeloupean society in subsequent films, including “Mamito” in 1980, which raised issues relevant to Guadeloupe’s 2009 general strike.
Honoring His Heritage
Christian Lara was determined to honor his heritage and continue the legacy of his grandfather, Oruno Lara (1879-1924), Guadeloupe’s first historian of African descent. This dedication is evident in his historical feature films, such as “Vivre libre ou mourir” (translated as “Live Free or Die Hard”), where Oruno Lara is credited as the original screenwriter.
In 1998, Lara released “Sucre Amer” (translated as “Bittersweet”), further acknowledging his grandfather’s heritage. In 2004, on the National Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery, he premiered “1802, l’Épopée guadeloupéenne” (translated as “1802, the Guadeloupean Epic”).
Lara’s later films, including “The Legend” and “Summer in Provence,” featured the talented French actress Mi Kwan Lock in leading roles.
Filmography as a Director
Throughout his career, Christian Lara directed a diverse range of films, both in cinema and television. Some of his notable works include:
- 1973: Jeu de dames
- 1973: Les Infidèles
- 1976: Un Amour de sable
- 1979: Coco la Fleur, candidate
- 1980: Mamito
- 1980: Vivre libre ou mourir
- 1998: Sucre Amer
- 2004: 1802, l’Épopée guadeloupéenne
- 2012: The Legend
- 2012: Summer in Provence
- 2009: Le Mystère Joséphine
Awards and Legacy
Christian Lara’s contributions to cinema were recognized with numerous awards, nominations, and distinctions. One of the highlights of his career was receiving the FESPACO’s Paul Robeson African Diaspora best film award for “Sucre Amer” in Burkina Faso in 1999.
Tragically, Christian Lara passed away on September 9, 2023, leaving behind a rich legacy in the world of filmmaking. His dedication to telling authentic stories from his homeland and his commitment to preserving the history and culture of Guadeloupe through cinema will continue to inspire filmmakers and audiences alike for generations to come.