The life of Claude Lanzmann, Claude Lanzmann declares at the beginning of his memoir, has been ‘a rich, multifaceted and unique story’. Self-flattery is characteristically Lanzmannian, but its truth in this case can hardly be denied. He has lived on a grand scale. A teenage fighter in the Resistance, he became Sartre’s protégé in the early 1950s as an editor at Les Temps modernes. He also became – with Sartre’s blessing – Beauvoir’s lover, ‘the only man with whom Simone de Beauvoir lived a quasi-marital existence’. He marched with the left against the wars in Algeria and Vietnam; moonlighted in Beijing as an unofficial conduit between Mao and de Gaulle; and fell under the spell of Frantz Fanon in Tunis. Writing for the glossies at the height of the Nouvelle Vague, he interviewed Bardot, Moreau, Deneuve, Belmondo and Gainsbourg: ‘I met them all … and, I can say without vanity, I helped some of them make a qualitative leap in their careers.’ He had a brief, stormy marriage to the actress Judith Magne, and was Michel Piccoli’s best man at his marriage to Juliette Gréco. He knew how to woo his subjects off and on the page. ‘You are the only one who talked about me as I would have wished,’ the novelist Albert Cohen told him.
LRB 5 April 2012 | PDF Download