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First thing to bear in mind is that it is "TAVERNIER' s voyage ,not the history of the French cinema.But a good knowledge of it is necessary ,hence the disappointment of some people (if I had to watch a Korean director 's voyage through the Korean cinema ,I would yawn my head off).
Bertrand Tavernier is certainly a great director and a fine connoisseur of the past masters of the seventh art.
The first half ,to my eyes ,is the most interesting:it is composed of four parts :
1)Jacques Becker :the first film he saw was "Dernier Atout" but his "Coup De Foudre" was "Casque D'Or";he passes over in silence the director's failures ("Ali Baba" and "Arsène Lupin") and insists on the fact that in a movie the characters are more interesting than the plot and we can only approve of Tavernier's opinion ,when he says that Becker's plots are minimal ,but that he creates extraordinary secondary characters (one remembers the uncle who studied in Oxford from "Edouard Et Caroline as much as Manda's fiancé in "Casque D'Or") ;besides ,these human beings work,a lesson contemporary directors should pay attention to)
2)Jean Renoir : the extracts are well chosen: the admirable final sequence of "Une Partie De Campagne" ;this terrifying scene when Gabin tries to strangle Blanchette Brunoy in "La Bête Humaine" ; the advertising in "Le Crime De Monsieur Lange" which was oddly prophetic.Tavernier does not pass over in silence Renoir's debatable attitude at the beginning of WW2.
3)Jean Gabin : the director wanted to show that he was a character actor and he's convincing.This part shows extracts of movies by less known directors :"La Nuit Est Mon Royaume" by Georges Lacombe in which he is cast against type as a blind man ;He restores to favor directors who were unfairly lambasted by the arrogant Nouvelle Vague : Gilles Grangier's "Le Desordre Et La Nuit" and "Gas Oil" ,and mainly Jean Delannoy's "Maigret Tend Un Piège " ,one of the best Simenon adaptations .The biggest flaw of the Gabin sequence is that ,although he mentions him, Tavernier seems to forget that it's Julien Duvivier,not Renoir,who created the myth.What have we got here ? From the thirties, a very tiny fragment of "La Belle Equipe " whereas this movie represents the 1936 zeitgeist ;and what about "La Bandera " which spawned Gabin-the-outcast (Carné would use in "Quai Des Brumes" )?
4)Marcel Carné: "his collaborators,be they Jeanson or Prevert ,used to treat him condescendingly ,nay contempt.So did the notorious Nouvelle Vague although Truffaut would later make amends and say he would trade all his "filmography " for "Les Enfants Du Paradis ".And however,Tavernier concludes ,his masterpieces have stood the test of time gracefully .This part shows glorious Arletty in a flattering light .And to begin this sequence with the (dated ,admittedly ,although it was his next-to -last effort in the...seventies!)"Assassins De L'Ordre" ,is,as Tavernier says himself,a provocation.
The second part is , IMHO, less exciting,although its several absorbing moments make it a worthwhile watch.
1)The music in films ,focussing of Jaubert who passed away in 1940 ,after giving memorable scores ,notably "Carnet De Bal" and "La Bête Humaine" ;Tavernier points out that,unlike the American directors of the era, French ones would choose their music :hence the extraordinary scores of Bresson's "Un Condamné A Mort S'est Echappé "or Cocteau's "La Belle Et La Bête".
2)Edmond T GReville :his work is not very known in France ;with the exceptions of "Menaces" and "L'Envers Du Paradis" ,none of the works I've seen ("brief ecstasy" "secret life" "Le Port Du Désir" "Les Menteurs" "L'accident") really filled me with enthusiasm.But Tavernier talks about two very attracting movies : "Remous" and "Le Diable Soufflé " which are ,alas,nowhere to be seen.
3)Eddie Constantine sequence :"at a time when French thrillers were sluggish" ..Well Decoin ,sluggish? And what about Henri-Georges Clouzot ,totally absent in the whole documentary,not a single extract?Constantine's movies ,OK ,just for fans.Tavernier keeps harping about on Tarentino ,particularly "inglorious bastards " ,in which the American pays a tribute to Clouzot (twice).
3)A long time is given over to Jean-Pierre Melville ,who was Tavernier's mentor;much good may it do to his numerous fans .Personally ,my favorite is "Leon Morin Prêtre " ,particularly for the Belmondo/Riva confrontation.
4)As far as I am concerned, Jean-Luc Godard causes the face to avert and the rump to shift restlessly in the armchair ,but there's no accounting for taste .These pictures may be sublime ,after all...But as for me,the short appearance of Fritz Lang remains the only good moment.The Nouvelle VAguelette is also represented by Claude Chabrol (but the choice of the movies is poor)and the lovely "Cléo De Cinq A Sept".
5)Claude Sautet's extracts ,on the other hand ,are excellent: the extraordinary "Classes Tous Risques" ,"Les Choses De LA vie ",an editing Tour De Force ,and his short return to thriller with "Max Et Les Ferrailleurs".
Mini- sequences are devoted to Jean Delannoy's "Le Garçon Sauvage " ,to Pierre Schoendorffer 's "La 317 Eme section" and ,yes! to Truffaut.
Will there be a "voyage 2"?Tavernier promised it.
La femme en rouge (1947)
Tintin Et L'Alphart.
Two paintings have just been stolen in an art gallery and in a painter's house.Amateur private detective Roland Gautier investigates .He thinks it must be a gang who signs the thefts with a "royal seal" sign.A little boy ,Marcel,is almost run over by one of the criminals and saved by Roland whose investigation takes him to a nightclub where the shady owner is none other than Marcel's sister 's lover.The young woman,Irmène, won't forget what the young sleuth has done and will be of great help when his enemies want to drown him.As for the kid, he will be here when Roland almost dies of asphyxiation.
Roland Gautier had been the hero of a handful of shorts before he was given the royal treatment of a feature-length film .A cross between Gaston Leroux' s Rouletabille and Hergé ' s Tintin (Yves Furet who played Gautier would provide the voice of the narrator in long- playing records of the early sixties based on Hergé's albums.)Besides ,the dumb captain looked like one of the Dupondt /Thompson twins .
"La Femme En rouge" is a cock and bull story ,an extravaganza which takes the viewer back to the serials of the silent era ("Les Vampires" "Belphégor" "Fantômas").The secret museum with all its stolen treasures is the best moment of a far-fetched screenplay,but you have to be patient because they probably wanted to save the best till last.It is basically a whodunit :who is the brains behind the job? Old Simon ,a restorer and an art lover?Saladin an one-eyed hoodlum?Imaneff,a famous painter whose favorite painting was stolen? Jean Talais, Roland's good friend whose attitude is somewhat bizarre?
The film must not have been a big success ,for it was the first and the last appearance of amateur private detective Roland Gautier in a feature .
Portrait of a downfall child.
A stark depressing drama ,which tells without embellishment and sentimentality ,the descent into hell of a drifting seventeen-tear- old girl.
Agnes leaves home and her alcoholic father.She leaves a note which reads "do not try to find me" .The father will appear ,though ,in one sequence, just to say he agrees to emancipate her , actually to get rid of her.Agnes has no more family ,which is a curse in our societies.
She meets Jerome ,and shortly afterward, gets pregnant by him.They visit his mother :although she does not disapprove of their union, Agnes feels ill at ease with her.She decides to have the baby and she tries her best to be a good mother.But Jerome's mother is over possessive :she soon realizes that her "daughter-in-law "is weak , immature ;under the pretext of helping her,she appropriates the child .These scenes ,more than Agnès's downfall in the last part , climax the movie,as this "normal" "straight woman begins to ignore the mother ,and calls the baby "MY Mathieu",a situation Jerome does nothing to rectify because "she pays the rent" .The feud between the two rivals is depicted by Philippe Faucon with absolute efficiency.
After breaking up with Jerôme ,and a violent quarrel with his mother , she leaves them .The triumphing mother-in-law keeps her grandson ;we even learn later that Jerome gets married to another woman and that Mathieu,who is his son just the same still lives with his grandma.
Agnès becomes a human wreck ,without a family ,without a job . She changes her name (she becomes "Sabine" ,hence the title)because Agnès ,outlawed from society ,is dead.Her descent into hell,told in succinct style and with short sequences ,is inexorable: prostitution,addiction to heroin ,drug trafficking , cold turkey, humiliating body search , and finally aids .
Some critics criticized Falcon for not sparing the sordid details .But ,as a condemned woman's last smoke (it was the early nineties , aids was then a fatal illness), Sabine/Agnes will spend one day with her four-year-old Mathieu.
Le fils de Joseph (2016)
Father ,you left me,but I never left you...
The story of the illegitimate child in search of his father has been told and told and told.It has spawned more melodramas than you'll ever see.
Eugene Green has completely renewed this hackneyed subject;his movie looks like no other one,and on the current feel-good French scene ,it's like a bolt from the blue.The viewer may feel bewildered,lost ,searching something vaguely similar to cling to.
Robert Bresson is the first name that comes to mind :the way the actors deliver their lines ,in a neuter almost robotic voice,refusing any dramatization,may put off some people.But if you carry it on,the movie grows on you and culminates in one of the most moving finale I know:Victor Ezenfis 's last shot reflects happiness,nay bliss.
The movie is divided in five chapters ,three inspired by the Old Testament , the others by the Gospels.It's not unwarranted .
Genesis and Exodus are cruel books: Oscar,the wealthy editor , is some kind of Abraham who did not hear God's voice (see Joseph's explanation);in the second part ,he is an equivalent of King Herod. Biblicals references abound.Oscar's and Joseph's father treated his children like Isaac in Genesis ,who favored Jacob and denied Esau's birthright .
The New Testament,on the other hand , is a providential merciful holy scripture ;in Vincent's bedroom,there's Caravaggio's painting which represents Abraham 's sacrifice.When he meets Joseph (the carpenter),both go to a museum and stop in front of Georges De La Tour's painting : a stark contrast to the violence (look at the terrified child's face) of the Italian painting.Although there's a cross on it, Jesus's and Joseph's faces reflect perfect heavenly bliss.
The "golden calf" represents the material world , that of Oscar and his "Bourgeois Bohèmes" ,who drink champagne ,exchanging would be "intellectual" lines -the "critic" who's just talked to late writer Nathalie Sarraute ,it takes the biscuit- , a self-centered selfish milieu.Oscar 's cynicism knows no bounds : not only he cheats on his wife almost in front of her ,but he does not know how many children he fathered!
Natacha Régnier's Mary is the only light in the first chapter : she wants to bring relief ,so she became a nurse .Vincent resents the fact that she has never revealed his father's name : she knows it's beyond her ,that old God of the Old Testament.It takes Joseph to build a true family ,and even if they escape from the powers- that-be on a donkey ,they are stronger than Herod and his cops/soldiers .
Eugene Green achieves the incredible feat of getting a little humor in a rather dry work: both scenes of the guy who sells sperm on internet and needs an associate are a good comic relief in that context ;so are the blue jokes Vincent cracks with his adoptive father.Sometimes,lines which are not funny become so ,by the way they are delivered :"can't you see I'm working?".
That there's only one (non French) comment on such a remarkable movie is amazing .This movie is so rich it deserves hundreds of reviews.Is it a Christian movie,by the way?
Le fugitif (1947)
Innocent victim of a blind justice?
This is supposed to take place in Canada ,but we know it just because on the one and only shop of that hole, it reads" general store" :the policemen are not even dressed up as the Canadian Mounties.The production is mean and thin,even though the ending tries to sound as a northern western ,complete with shack lost in the snows , a secret carved in the wood ,and gangland killing .
The story gets off to a most auspicious start though :the police station where the captain is sick of this dump; Fred ,the fugitive , who takes refuge in the house of his former love , who married a physician, who mistakes him for her brother.Simone urges her former husband not to leave the place,but he intends to avenge himself :someone gave him away to the police five years ago.And a shady storekeeper seems to know too much about him.
With a stellar actress such as Madeleine Robinson ,ex-child actor René Dary's hangdog look ,and good support from Jean Debucourt ,the movie could have been an honest psychological drama.but when the villain ,his henchmen and the bad girl, who loves Fred too,enter the scene , it becomes a poor melodramatic thriller ,with Pre-war years accent : the bad gal wants Fred and her to elope,but he wants to leave for new horizons with his former love.The last third is the kind of story the average viewer has seen one hundred times or more,and besides,Madeleine Robinson is almost absent,and her female co-star is no match for her.
Country Romeo and Juliet.
Based on a story called "Romeo and Juliet in the village ","Espoirs" is a notch or two above Willy Rozier's production.It's melodrama ,but unlike extravaganzas such as "Le Bagnard" and "56 Rue Pigalle",with sentimentality and implausibilities kept to economical levels.
Grigou (=skinflint)owns a patch of land between farmers Martin's and Aubert's fields .Both covet this plot.As Grigou has lost the title deed,the mayor of the village decides to sell it.After an interminable auction sale , Aubert carries the day .To add insult to injury,shortly after,Martin is expelled from his farm (a mortgage was hanging over his head) and becomes an innkeeper , the former owner was found hanged on a beam.Ten years after, Aubert's daughter falls in love with Martin's son.Their fathers being deadly enemies, their marriage seems impossible.
The first part (the best) depicts the peasants ' fight for a plot of land.Although they are still young ,their children know better than they do.Grigou ,who plays the fiddle all along the story ,proves wiser-even though he almost involuntary causes the lovers' death- than the farmers whose greed leads them to sacrifice their children's happiness.He's the pied piper and he plays this part till the last pictures.There's also an attempt at supernatural scenes(the lovers haunting the musician who believes he caused their death)but it's poorly executed.
The most baffling thing is the years (1929 and 1939) when the action takes place : in her cafe,Pierre 's mother says "my husband and son are gone to war" (which could be quite plausible) but there's no other single hint at WW2.
Robert Lynen who plays the part of Pierre remains the best French child actor of the thirties ,in Duvivier's movies "Le Petit Roi" and mainly "Poil De Carotte" (1932) ,one of that director's masterpieces."Espoirs" was his next-to-last movie.He became a resistant fighter in WW2 and was tortured and killed by the Nazis.
Poachers will be prosecuted .
Based on Maurice Genevoix 's famous novel,"Raboliot" is an unfairly forgotten movie by Jacques Daroy who made the very first version of "La Guerre Des Boutons" ("La Guerre Des Gosses").
A very nice cinematography in black and white ,lots of light which contrast with the blackness of the subject.Superb performance by Julien Bertheau (later a Luis Bunuel 's regular performer : 5 movies,including "the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie " :he's unforgettable as the bishop/gardener ).
In the Middle Ages,only the lord could hunt ;in Sologne , in the first half of the twentieth century ,time seems to have stood still.The count is the owner of the woods and remains the master , the man who dispenses justice .That a churl such as Raboliot dares even come to his mansion plunges his downfall.
The nature is Raboliot's home ,but he'll never be the same in another place because of his family and of his good friends (he is an outcast , a beloved rebel against the society ) .However , around him ,another poacher ,gamekeepers ,a dishonest steward ,have sworn to ruin him.The microcosm depicted by Genevoix is not a rosy one:even a sickly little gamine can betray the good poacher who shows some sympathy for her ,so as to not to be beaten by her father .
Good support by Blanchette Brunoy ("Goupi Mains -rouges") and by René Blancard ,who ,in his last scene ,rises to the occasion and absolutely matches Bertheau's brilliance.
Le fils de Jean (2016)
On the lake, the deep forbidden lake .
Philippe Lioret has not made a bad movie yet ;I would go as far as to write that "Toutes Nos Envies" ,"Je Vais Bien Ne T'en Fais Pas" ,"L'Equipier" "Welcome" or "Tombés Du Ciel"have placed him firmly and definitively among French finest contemporary directors .With "Le Fils De Jean " ,he's simply become my favorite contemporary French director.
I still wonder why I like his movies so much : take this latest work:the story of the son/daughter who has never known his/her father and finds him again has been told,told,and TOLD.Besides ,Mathieu is divorced ,one of the clichés of the French cinema.
The first fifteen minutes perplexed me.But the further acquaintance says this:another topflight Lioret movie.Every time he transcends the often melodramatic subject ,every time he makes it absorbing and endearing.Far from the feel-good fashion which mars the present French scene , his characters are made of flesh and blood, and they are In SEARCH of something : his lost son for the father in " Je Vais Bien" ,a new land for the young immigrant of " Welcome",a reason to carry on her earthly ride for the terminally-ill lawyer in "Toutes Nos Envies" ....
"Le Fils De Jean" is perhaps his most complex work ,for it is a double search ; a search for a father he has never known and for two brothers he has never had for Mathieu;a mysterious search for Pierre,who ,little by little,considers the French illegal son as the son he has never had .Compared to this,the search of the dead body which might be at the bottom of a lake , is somewhat pathetic and the brothers Mathieu longs to love show themselves greedy and devoid of humanity.As for Pierre ,he is disillusioned,embittered , ill: in the first part,he is contemptuous, hostile ,as though he had a secret too hard to conceal.
"What's the name of the lake?" asks Mathieu ."None ;we just call him "the lake" "like me" says the boy ,of an unknown father".
The picture may puzzle the viewer -and the fact that Mathieu can estimate right away is a bit unlikely- but it inspires Lioret's disregard for money : the stethoscope who reportedly belonged to Mathieu's dad means more to him than a 80,000 dollars painting ;the same for the doctor who "has always tried not to make too much money";moreover ,it's this instrument which reveals the truth ,an admirable breathtaking sequence ,in every sense of the term.Note that when he talks to Pierre in the last sequences ,he uses "Tu" (second person singular) instead of the formal "Vous "(second person plural)
Pierre Deladonchamps is a promising newcomer (who finds here a much better part than in "L'Homme Du Lac " which suffered from a poor screenplay),who discovers that his search is not necessarily the one which concerns him ;as the film progresses ,it's Gabriel Arcand who becomes the true hero of the movie; like Kad Merad in "Je Vais Bien ", this sullen character becomes more and more human and wise ,even hating traditional medicine .The thespian's performance is a tour De force ,from a disagreeable grumbler to a distraught wreck with a gaunt face.
It's another damn great movie by a director who is going to be around for a long time.
La madone des sleepings (1955)
Lady Diana finds love .
Based on Maurice Dekobra 's famous novel which nobody reads today ;it was already obsolete when the movie was made in the mid-fifties .Diamant-Berger is one of the worst French directors of the old wave :even with a golden subject ("Arsène Lupin") he was not able to make an exciting movie.
In the fifties ,his career was more unfocused as never."La Madonne" is sandwiched between "Le Chasseur De Chez Maxime" / "Mon Curé Chez Les Riches" and "Mon Curé Chez Les Pauvres ".It's a jumble ,a dreadful far-fetched screenplay involving a socialite (and adventuress),lady Diana (Wyndsome), oil wells, stocks,psychoanalysis, conjurers, uranium, a female gaucho , skyjacking, a 60 miles walk in the desert without food or water,a free-for-all,secret agents,you name it....the viewer feels like giving up, well before the final revelations.But he can sleep the sleep of the just :uranium winds up in France's pocket.
Erich Von Stroheim is killed half-way through the movie : maybe he was tired of a hopeless script.Lady Diana's bedroom in the sleeping- car is luxurious and is worth a visit.The actress,Gisèle Pascal ,looks like a poor man's Danielle Darrieux.
NB : Von Stroheim 's character is Dr Traurig" (=sad);how apt!
Suzy's and Henry's marriage is on the rocks ;they decide to divorce but there's a problem :the hairdressing salon belongs to both.So does the dog who impassively attends the rows and the changing.They begin a fight for the salon.It's anyone 's guess:who will win?Both spouses use lawyers and an assistant :a manicure for the husband,an Italian buck for the wife ;the cafe's owner covets Suzy and urges her to leave her hubby as soon as possible ;even the vicar intervenes.
The action takes place in 1965 ,the first year when the president was elected by direct universal suffrage.So ,the screenwriters draw a parallel between the De Gaulle/Mitterrand battle and that of the hairdressers.That's the main originality of a well-acted comedy.