Michel Ciment (1938-2023)


On Monday the 13th of November, film critic and longtime editor of Positif magazine Michel Ciment died at age 85. In a tribute on social media, Positif describes Ciment as a “master architect” for his extensive repertoire and countless contributions to the magazine. They note that it was exactly 60 years since they published his first article on Orson Welles’ The Trial – a cold submission from a then still unknown writer. In an interview dating from 2020, Ciment told David Davidson he was surprised when the magazine asked him to collaborate with them. “I was sympathetic to Positif for political reasons,” he told Davidson, addressing the friendly feud between Positif and Cahiers du cinéma.

In one of his bloc-notes for the magazine dating from 1986, Ciment writes about one of his early encounters with the staff of Cahiers du Cinéma: « François Truffaut m'a reçu et je lui ai parlé d'un de ses collaborateurs, Jean-Luc Godard, qui écrivait surtout autour des films qu'il critiquait, comme dans sa critique de Victoire amère où il parle de tout sauf du film de Nicholas Ray. Truffaut lui a répondu : « Vous vous trompez. C'est le plus original d’entre nous ». » [“François Truffaut received me and I told him about one of his collaborators, Jean-Luc Godard, who wrote mainly about the films he criticised, as in his review of Bitter Victory, in which he talks about everything except the film by Nicholas Ray. Truffaut replied: ‘You're wrong. He’s the most original of us all.’”] Michel Ciment detested the magazine's impressionistic tendency and cult-of-personality criticism. While Cahiers du Cinéma has repeatedly swerved from right to left and back again under succeeding editorial regimes, Positif has largely stayed true to its original vision – a "left wing" magazine influenced by surrealism and a preference for l’art d’aimer against rigorous, formal analysis. This is just one example of a clash between the two magazines and their approach to cinema.

By 1966, Michel Ciment joined the editorial board. Besides Positif, he was also a member of what he called "the Bermuda Triangle" – the newspapers Libération, Le Monde, and Les Inrockuptibles. In 1970, Ciment started contributing to the weekly radio program Le Masque et la Plume, and three years later, he published his first book, Kazan par Kazan (1973). Many more works on cinema followed, notably on Stanley Kubrick, Joseph Losey, Francesco Rosi, Jane Campion, and on American cinema with Les Conquérants d’un nouveau monde (2014). Michel Ciment has always asserted a taste for intellectual battle. In a 2019 interview with Le Monde, he states that film critics in the 1960s weren’t afraid to make enemies, but today « la critique de cinéma se réduit comme une peau de chagrin » [“film criticism is s disappearing into thin air”], lamenting the caution with which the young writers of this generation act.

Michel Ciment
Image: © Philippe Matsas/Leextra via opale
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