Nino Frank: a biography
Frank, Jacques-Henri (Nino) (born Barletta, Italy, 27.6.1904, died Paris, 17.8.1988)
Frank’s parents were Swiss, his father had been in the wine trade in France and Italy and subsequently invested in a cinema in Puglia. The young boy spent hours in the projection room, fascinated by “le hochet [baby’s rattle] du rêve, que des fées narquoises avaient déposé dans son berceau”.
He was sent to a German-run secondary school in Naples (attended earlier – and hated equally – by Blaise Cendrars, also a Swiss national). The growth of Fascism brought (voluntary) militaristic youth training in schools, and he slipped off to read French literature instead. He played the aesthete, wearing a monocle, following new movements and ‘-isms’, and becoming a devoted disciple of Nietzsche.
By 1922 (aged 18), he was writing articles on contemporary French literature in the Rome newspaper Corriere della Sera and became noticed by French writers. In 1923, he was invited to France by Max Jacob, who introduced him to Jean Cocteau and Pierre Mac Orlan. Back in Italy in 1924, he worked as a freelance writer for Corriere della Sera and other major papers, contributed to the élite German artistic journal Der Querschnitt, and began to translate into Italian Mac Orlan’s novels, and French avant-garde plays.
Two years later he became a salaried correspondent of Corriere della Sera in Paris, and the international consultant to Massimo Bontempelli’s new cultural magazine “900” [‘Novecento’ or ‘Twentieth Century’], with the task of seeking participation from major international figures – including Ilya Ehrenbourg, whose aggressive Marxism and anti-Fascism led to the closure of the journal and Frank’s expulsion from Italy and Italian employment.
Marooned in Paris, and improving his French as quickly as possible, he wrote articles on Italian culture for Georges Charensol at Paris-Journal, produced an Anthologie de la prose nouvelle with Philippe Soupault, wrote for Les Nouvelles littéraires under Alexandre Arnoux and had a regular column on contemporary painters in L’Art Vivant. At the end of 1928, he joined Arnoux’s new cinema weekly, Pour Vous.
Between 1929 and 1931 he was also assistant to the Dada-ist Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes in launching and editing Bifur, an avant-garde revue competing with La Révolution surréaliste – they published stories, poems, and illustrations by Desnos, Joyce, Malraux, Kafka, Döblin, Cendrars, Nizan, Prévert, de Chirico, Man Ray, Eisenstein, and other well-known writers and artists. He helped James Joyce to translate into Italian ‘Anna Livia Plurabella’, from Finnegan’s Wake (published Italy, 1940).
Throughout the 1930s, he worked for Pour Vous, ending the decade as its editor-in-chief. At the Armistice in June 1940, the magazine was closed by the French government. Between 1940 and 1942 he wrote cinema reviews for Les Nouveaux Temps, until his opinions offended the Occupiers and he was forbidden to write in the French press. He turned to scriptwriting, especially for Marcel L’Herbier, and continued with Franco-Italian productions postwar. He was a founder member and first Secretary General (1944) of the Syndicat des Scénaristes [French Screenwriters’ Union].
Between 1945 and 1947 he wrote regularly for L’ Écran français, and up until 1954 he also wrote occasionally for Spectateur, La Revue du Cinéma, La Table ronde, Arts, L’Âge du Cinéma, Cahiers du Cinéma, Positif, also two books on the cinema, Petit Cinéma sentimental (published 1950) and Cinema dell’Arte (1951), a text in French on Italian cinema.
After the war he wrote and produced radio and television programmes and series, at first with Pierre Mac Orlan, commissioned by Frank’s friend Paul Gilson, who was now in charge of cultural programming at French state radio – interviews, songs, plays, stories. He also wrote a book on Montmartre, Montmartre ou les Enfants de la Folie (1954), illustrated by Mac Orlan.
In the mid-1950s he began translations of important Italian authors into French (Leonardo Sciascia, Cesare Zavattini, Italo Calvino, Alberto Moravia, Alberto Savinio, Cesare Pavese and others). From 1959 until the early 1970s, he worked for UNESCO, on the UNESCO Courier and on film and television reportage, full- and then part-time. From 1967 onwards, he wrote volumes of memoirs – La Mémoire brisée; Le Bruit dans le vent; 10.7.2 et autres portraits:Souvenirs; Les Années 30, où l’on inventait aujourd’hui – and continued with his translations from Italian. In 1987, the year before his death, he was awarded the prestigious French prize for literary translation, the Grand Prix de la Traduction.
Jean-Charles Tacchella (President of the Cinémathèque Française, 2000-2003), described Frank as “un personnage merveilleux, qui s’intéressait à tout, d’une curiosité insatiable. Pour lui, tout était poésie. Il m’a aidé, toute sa vie, par sa chaleureuse présence.” (Le Poing dans la vitre, p.16)