Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bertrand Tavernier's MY JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA opens in L.A. and New York

As its title decrees, the trip that French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier takes in his new documentary, MY JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA, is a very personal one. Some film buffs may quibble -- perhaps even become a bit appalled -- at what has been left out here, yet so enjoyable, rich and often quite moving is Tavernier's account of his own life and the ways in which film has filled it that I can't imagine anyone who appreciates this man's work not being immediately and continuously swept away by his movie.

The 76-year-old M. Tavernier, shown at right, was a "war baby," born during the occupation of France by Nazi Germany. From an early age, film was a kind of escape and, finally, a hugely important part of his teenage and adult life. He communicates all this via his remembrances in his thoughtful, moving narration, and with film clips of (by my count) just over 100 different movies! Granted, these are mostly snippets, but if you've seen many of the films (as most buffs will have) they'll resonate strongly, and even when you haven't, thanks to his fine narration, the reasons why they and their directors are important will shine through.

Our host begins (and devotes a good deal of time) to the work of Jacques Becker, a filmmaker -- Le trou, (below), Casque d'Or (above, with Simone Signoret), Touchez pas au grisbi -- not as well known to Americans as many other French directors but (in Tavernier's and my own view) just as important. After this segment, you'll definitely want to bone up on Becker. From there we move to another great filmmaker, Jean Renoir, about whom we learn, among other things, that he was, according to the great actor Jean Gabin: "As a filmmaker, a genius; as a person, a whore." You'll understand better just why, once you've experienced Tavernier's quietly thoughtful, honest and encompassing view.

Gabin (shown at bottom,with Jeanne Moreau) gets his own wonderful section, too, as does actor Eddie Constantine (below), who provides some of the doc's funniest, wittiest moments, before which we get a very interesting section devoted to Marcel Carné, a noted director about whom Tavernier tells us, "Few filmmakers have been attacked by their colleagues as much as has Carné."

Along the way composers such as Maurice Jaubert are given their due, as are much lesser known directors like Jean Sasha (though the IMDB spells it Sacha, it's Sasha in the doc's subtitles). We see and hear a bit from early Truffaut, and learn quite a lot about the work of an interesting journeyman director, Edmond Gréville, who made both French- and English-language films.

As Tavernier's adult life takes off, we're made privy to all sorts of fun and interesting anecdotes, especially regarding his time as an assistant to filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. an asshole extraordinaire who was also supremely talented, about whom we learn a lot here, including Tavernier's assessment (correct, I think) of Melville's lesser capabilities as screenwriter. And did you know that Tavernier first encountered Melville's movie, Bob le flambeur, at a theater that offered a burlesque show between screenings? It's this sort of diversion that adds to the documentary's fun.

From the much-appreciated Melville, we move to the less-so Claude Sautet -- this section will make you want to take another look at Sautet's work,such as Max and the Junkmen, above -- and to Tavernier's time doing PR at Rome-Paris Films.

Here we encounter everyone from Chabrol to Varda (that's Corinne Marchand in Cleo from 5 to 7, above) to, yes, Godard, And we learn (very briefly) how our host then went on to a career as a writer and director. Mostly, though, it's other people's films that matter more to Tavernier. And once you've experienced this lovely documentary, they're going to matter more to you, too.

From Cohen Media Group, in French with English subtitles and running, yes, three hours and 20 minutes (not a one of them I would want to give up), the documentary opens tomorrow, Friday, June 23, in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal) and New York City (at the Quad Cinema) and in the weeks to come in at least another half dozen cities. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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