My Jour­ney Through French Cin­ema

MY JOUR­NEY THROUGH FRENCH CIN­EMA, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Jon Bow­man

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

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