Frédéric Mitterrand is now in heaven and his thousand best friends were there, at St Thomas d’Aquin

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Frédéric was much loved by thousands of friends, photo Eric Fougere

Frédéric Mitterrand, former Minister of Culture and Director of Villa Medicis in Rome, died on Thursday March 21 of cancer, in his apartment of rue de l’Université with his three sons at his bedside.

His public life started first as a 12 year old actor in “Fortunat” with Bourvil and Michèle Morgan. Already passionate about cinema, he had interviewed for the part under a pseudonym. He then studied at Sciences Po and refused to take the orals of l’ENA, and decided instead to go into the movie world. To support himself, he taught history at Ecole Bilingue Jeannine Manuel at the same time as Fabienne Servan Schreiber (who also went into producing movies). Then he founded l’Olympic in the 14 th arrondissement. There were two rooms: la Salle Marilyn and la Salle Pigozzi, named after Jean Pigozzi, who, with Jean Rémy Camus, was one of his benefactors. He acquired two more cinemas, l’Artistic (boulevard Voltaire) and L’Entrepôt in the 14 th, where his “cashiers” were Serge de Proutchenko and Isabelle de Gramont. His little dog Violette attended every show. At the funeral, his son Mathieu, who was born at the time of l’Olympic, where his mother worked, talked gratefully of their life and holidays together with his two Tunisian brothers Saïd and Jihed.

When he became an Académicien, the Shabanou Farah Pahlavi quoted a pretty poem in Persian while handing Frédéric his sword

Then came his first films, “Lettres d’Amour en Somalie”, “Madame Butterfly”… and  the TV historical series and broadcasts of which Empress Farah Pahlavi talked via a taped speech. They were very close. Former minister of culture Jack Lang talked mostly about himself as if Frédéric had owed him the ministry. The person he owed the job to, President Nicolas Sarkozy, was present, sadly without his wife Carla. His editor Betty Mialet mentioned all the books they had published together at Laffont and Julliard, and more importantly, the two manuscripts he handed her a few weeks ago. She will be his editor for a few more months.

New Year’s Eve party in 1973 at l’Olympic

The two last speakers were the most moving: Dritan Tola, the Albanian ambassador to France since 2013, who had travelled to Albania with him when he shot “La rose de Tirana“, a documentary on the last queen of Albania, and said he owed him a lot. He announced that an Arts library would soon carry his name in Tirana. And Amel Smaoui, a wonderful Tunisian actress and journalist, who told a hilarious story of a party at her parent’s house in Tunis some decades ago. Frédéric had brought Farah Pahlavi to their home for dinner and, suddenly, a very loud music erupted from the house next door. Amel 15, was sent to ask the neighbors to turn down the music “because they were hosting the former Iranian Empress”. And the lady next door, replied: “If this is so, tell your parents and the Empress to come and join my daughter’s wedding because we were roommates as young girls”. It turned out to be the most successful party for all of them.

To promote his biography of Brad Pitt in Paris Match, he recreated a Hollywood atmosphere

She ended her charming speech, saying that while watching the assistance of over 1 000 friends, she could only think of one thing: Frédéric always made you believe that you were his one and only friend. And this is what the very rude usher did not understand when he bossed people around saying: “Everyone says they are his best friend” he shouted. “Well, stay in the back of the church!”

His brothers, Olivier and Jean Gabriel, were devastated and spoke in a charming and affectionate way about their early years. The three of them were very tightly knit and they had gone through all the difficulties of life together including Jean Gabriel’s long coma during COVID which Frédéric narrated in a book.

With Jean Pigozzi in New York in 1976

Prince Emmanuel-Philibert de Savoie, who considered Frédéric as a surrogate father, Stéphane Bern, his colleague on television, the members of the Académie des Beaux Arts, Hugues Gall and Erik Desmazières, Adrien Goetz and Laurent Petitgirard, Minister of culture Rachida Dati, Arielle Dombasle and Betty Catroux, Christian Estrosi and Anne and Patrick Poirier, Mathieu Gallet, the former head of Radio France whom he particularly cherished, Jean Michel Wilmotte and Christophe Leribault (not an Academician yet) were all there. Roselyne Bachelot, Jacques Toubon, both former ministers of culture, and so many more attended the two hour ceremony. Philippe Belaval, the very powerful culture adviser of President Macron, arrived late and was sent to the back.

Fréderic Mitterand at age 4 in 1951, studio Harcourt

The ceremony conducted by Monseigneur Angot, curé de St Thomas d’Aquin, ended with three prayers read by Eric de Rothschild, Alice Mitterrand and Iranian film director Fereydoun Djavadi. Baritone Jacques-François Loiseleur des Longchamps sang a moving Ave Maria by Gounod. There were no movie stars in the audience but a large public waited outside the church in the rain.

We all realized how multifaceted Frédéric’s rich life was and how, on top of being a brilliant writer, a fabulous documentary director and a historian, he was, mostly a cherished and generous friend. He took the time to bid farewell to many of them in the last two weeks. “Fredo’s” life was very productive but not an easy one.

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8 Comments on “Frédéric Mitterrand is now in heaven and his thousand best friends were there, at St Thomas d’Aquin”

  1. Excellent article, j’étais au fond de l’église, c’était une belle cérémonie à son image. Ses proches amis disent qu’il aurait aimé !

  2. Merci Laure, tu es si juste !
    on aurait tellement aimé être là pour lui dire un dernier adieu . C’est tellement juste qu’il nous faisait sentir qu’on était son amie …!

  3. Thank you, Laure, for posting this moving piece. My husband, John, and I are going to be in Paris on May 30th and I have been calling Frederic, only to discover the devastating news. Freddy was my best friend in Paris and we will miss him enormously. I was a a film student in Paris in the seventies and an assistant to Eric Rohmer. I was also a projectionist at Frederic’s newly opened Olympic Marilyn. Freddy, Serge (Proutchenko), and Valentine, would be selling tickets and popcorn below. Freddy would go crazy when the British filmmaker Mike Leigh’s film “Bleak Moments” would break on the large single reel in the petite salle for the thousandth time, while I was also running “Le Regle du Jeu” in 35mm in the grand salle. What fun we had! We were fortunate to visit Frederic in Rome and follow his career in films, books, and TV. Frederic truly made a great contribution opening the world of independent and art cinema to a global audience.
    Later, Frederic’s sons came to the United States to visit; and Frederic loved Rogan and Maggie, our twin girls.
    I just cannot believe that Freddy is gone. I returned to ballet after 50 years and we were already imagining what scathing, hilarious remarks Frederic would make when we saw him. It will have to wait for heaven, mon ange.

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