My Journey Through French Cinema
MY JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA, documentary, not rated, The Screen, 3.5 chiles
Following in the footsteps of Martin Scorsese and his diaries about American and Italian cinema, French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier takes his own stroll down memory lane, presenting highlights of Gallic cinema since the 1930s. Tavernier has much to share, having worked as a critic, an assistant director for JeanPierre Melville and a publicist for Jean-Luc Godard, before beginning his own directing career with The
Clockmaker in 1974. Tavernier doesn’t try to be as inclusive as Scorsese, but instead assembles mini essays on those artists he knows personally — Melville, Godard, and Claude Sautet, for instance — as well as the early titans who influenced him the most in his youth. Some critics have complained that Tavernier shortchanges the French New Wave, but that charge doesn’t hold water. The reason: Tavernier has said he’s just getting started. This three-hour-plus doc won’t be a one-shot deal, but the opening in a series pulling together Tavernier’s memories and his impressions of French film. The next installment, he said, will include more New Wave dirt, as well as chapters on Jacques Tati, Max Ophüls, and Robert Bresson. Thus, it makes perfect sense for Tavernier to focus more heavily here on the great directors from the 1930s and 1940s, including Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, and Marcel Carné.
Becker receives the most reverential treatment. Tavernier describes him as “the most American” of the French directors, and vividly recalls Becker’s picture, Dernier Atout, as the first movie he remembers seeing in a theater, at the age of three. Renoir gets a bit more scorn. His movies are not deemed weaker, but Tavernier takes a shot at him for leaving France during World War II to work in Hollywood, as did Julien Duvivier. Tavernier quotes actor Jean Gabin, who once said, “As a filmmaker, Renoir was a genius; as a man, he was a whore.”
Carné also gets jabbed, hailed as hardworking and a perfectionist, but nicked for preferring to leave the screenwriting to others. At least, Carné knew who to hire, asking Jacques Prévert to script his masterpiece Children of Paradise.
Most of the essays trace the careers of directors, but there’s a fascinating one introducing the composer Maurice Jaubert, who wrote the music for Jean Vigo’s 1930s films Zero for Conduct and L’Atalante. Jaubert was killed in WWII but many of his scores are still being discovered and revived, for example, one of his sonatas resurfaced recently in Frances Ha.
There’s a strong tribute to the hardboiled American expatriate actor Eddie Constantine (from Godard’s
Alphaville), but nothing half as juicy or complete for any actresses. Tavernier is off to a solid start, but he’s still got lots of ground to cover as this series evolves.
Filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier