Louis Malle was not interested in car chases, bank robberies, and other standard movie fare. His films were deeply personal explorations of everything from preteen prostitutes to fading gamblers.
In a career that spanned five decades, Malle, who died Thursday, created many memorable movie images in films from "Atlantic City" to "My Dinner With Andre."
After a start in documentaries, sharing an Oscar for the 1956 Jacques Cousteau film "The Silent World," Malle went on to spin richly stylized character stories.
The daring French director rarely shied away from difficult subject matter. His films explor- ed everything from Nazi collaboration in "Au Revoir Les Enfants" to incest in "Murmur of the Heart." His first American production starred Brooke Shields as a young prostitute in "Pretty Baby."
French President Jacques Chirac said in a radio broadcast: "France loses one of its most eminent, one of its most brilliant filmmakers."
"Atlantic City" may be remembered as his career highlight. The 1980 film featured Burt Lancaster as an over-the-hill hoodlum opposite Susan Sarandon. It was nominated for five Oscars including best picture and best director.
That same year, Malle married actress Candace Bergen, who went on to star in the TV comedy "Murphy Brown."
Another well-received film was his autobiographical and deeply felt Holocaust story "Au Revoir, Les Enfants" ("Goodbye, Children"). That 1987 work won seven Cesars, the French equivalent of the Academy Awards, and was nominated for a foreign-language film Oscar. The film followed Malle's childhood friendship with a sensitive, timid Jewish schoolmate who is turned over to Nazis and sent to die in a concentration camp. The shock of that experience led him to become a filmmaker, Malle said after the movie won the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film festival.
"After that moment, I felt the world of adults was one of injustice, pretending, hypocrisy, and lies. That forced me to go see for myself what was behind the stereotypes and preconceived notions," he said. "Soon after that I told my parents I wanted to make movies."
His 25th and last film released last year, "Vanya on 42nd Street," had the same daring simplicity of "My Dinner With Andre." It was about nothing more than a rehearsal of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" at a New York theater.