Bertrand Tavernier came to Lille last Tuesday to present his latest documentary JOURNEY THROUGH THE CINEMA FRENCH (our review: HERE), which runs through nearly 50 years of French cinema of Jacques Becker, to protestant redemption church.
It is not necessary to present Bertrand Tavernier , the director of Coup de torchon, As the feast begins, The life and nothing else , and documentary Mississippi Blues or The war without a name, to cite only a few titles in his impressive filmography. Bertrand Tavernier, president of the Institute Lumière in Lyon, for instance, is a great passer and storyteller who has ever stopped to pay homage to his films a bedside cabinet. And they are many ! Back on our meeting, which was preceded by a debate amazing with another fan of Jean Sacha in the audience !
One has the impression that you are wearing a Journey to the heart of French cinema ever since. Has there been a trigger, an emergency transmission ? That is what has been possible or different and which was not before ?
Bertrand Tavernier : I had one or two times a proposal from the BBC but I couldn’t find the angle. And then there was this constraint of format (52’) that seemed to be impossible. It is telling me that I needed to talk about in such a personal way that little by little the idea grew in my head and won. I can’t say if there was a trigger, otherwise it became an emergency because I could see the institutions in charge to disseminate, protect or promote the heritage who did more, who gave up their spots and dealt with it the same way as with Thierry (Frémaux) we wanted to put on the project for the Light Festival. We laughed at the nose, telling us : “you go back to the time of the film club“. This Festival is today a huge success and I am told that you had to go, because this French cinema was not exceeded, that it was very different, full of energy, of vitality, of passion and that I could speak to you through bits of my life. The conjunction of all of it became unstoppable.
The cinema at you could be a never-ending story. A sequel to the television is expected. How have you drawn the contours of this journey, which is neither chronological nor comprehensive ? Where the stops are there ?
B. T. : It is very difficult. I knew that I wanted to start with the sanatorium that I was from Jacques Becker, and my first shock, Last card, that I have taken 30 years to identify. After that, it is the result of a huge work, with bindings that are imposed naturally, Becker came quickly to Renoir since I first discovered them at about the same time. Then we had to juggle, do a lot of testing and give up some when it was realized that they do ancraient not in the dramatic art. And I’m not talking here of movies that we had to abandon for lack of material or copyright issues.
Choose is to renounce. Does he not frustration or regret not to be exhaustive in its blows of heart when it comes to pass on and share as you do ?
B. T. : I had always thought that there would be a following behind it, we had talked very early on with producers. So, I knew that I could count on the series (NB : a suite of eight episodes for the television is to be expected) which I recall it will not be a longer version of the film but an extension. So I knew that by eliminating Max Ophuls, Guitry or Pagnol, I could devote another place elsewhere. It is the dramaturgy that has imposed the elimination of some, and not a question of superiority of the works.
You hate quarrels of chapel, who are able to love films and film-makers are very different, do you see a point common to all these films that tisseraient the invisible thread of your lovers ? That is what has a movie that we want to transmit ?
B. T. : no it has no point in common. The clean it is to admire works totally different, very different, film-makers sometimes who never liked each other. The emotion or the shock felt is itself very different. I’m not in front of October in Paris the same thing in front of a film of Becker, Renoir or protestant redemption church. October in Paris is an important documentary about a terrible event, even if it is not always successful. Jacques Panijel is the only filmmaker, a contemporary of these events to make a film about the repression of protest. To see the film we had to flee from the police all night. I don’t put these films on the same plan… It may be because I am a great curiosity and that what interested me was to show the extraordinary diversity of talents and break a few of these “boxes“. The story shows that we sometimes tried to bring together people who have nothing to do ! Carné in his way of staging has nothing to do with Grémillon and yet they are gathered together under the label of “poetic realism“. In the same way I find the label New Wave completely hollow ! It is enough to see excerpts from Pierrot le fou or Contempt next to excerpts from Chabrol to realize that the film Chabrol has absolutely no connection with that of Godard.
About the New Wave, you tell them also how much you have been close to them as a press officer or supporter of the Cinematheque Henri Langlois. That is what has taken you away or close them ?
B. T. : I was very close to them, I thought they innovated a lot, and that some needed a movie to the first person who came to break the conventions of the French cinema, which from the mid-50’s became stilted, stiff, static. This was not the case for all movies but there was this tendency. They were bringing in personal things that were roots in a cinema before. The next autobiographical of Truffaut , for example, finds its roots in a movie as the First arms of René Wheeler. Moreover, Truffaut would claim his influence. I like the least is in contrast to certain statements of their advocates, who make a clean sweep of a cinema, which was not the case of Truffaut or Chabrol. Chabrol loved the films of Duvivier, Truffaut championed the films ofBoth Lara and Duvivier, it was a lot of broken but defended others. Unfortunately, after we had to deal with disciples more uncompromising than their masters who apply a form of fundamentalism to which I am opposed.
As the defender of a certain movie, you “clean up“ several filmmakers are forgotten or despised. Conversely, you do not forget to unveil the dark past of Jean Renoir, one of the masters indisputable of the French cinema. Is this a way to balance all of this ?
B. T. : No, but to take into account the landscape of French cinema who is extremely varied, rugged and has a lot of different things. It is necessary to try to make a clean sweep of quarrels completely silly and observe the facts. Greet the qualities of the New Wave, for example, it is enough to see the color picture of Pierrot le fou or Contempt to see the huge difference with the French films in color of the 50’s. If you compare with The Red and the black , or The regattas of San Francisco d’Autant-Lara or with most of the French films of the time, you realize that they are awful, over-lit. It’s amazing the ugliness of the color films French ! There is very little exception until the moment when Henri Decae will find interesting things and where Raoul Coutard ‘s going to bring in the color that could not be seen in the films of Christian-Jaque’s or Richard Pottier.
The New wave has allowed to break the dictatorship of this film in colour-illuminated where the chefs operators of 50 years had a 10-year delay on the English or the americans. From time to time, we come across a few surprises such as some of the night scenes of La Caraque blonde of Jacqueline Audry, and its plans for the rider under a sky of storm photographed by Marcel Weiss, who remains without comparison in the French cinema. But the New wave will also do away with the external highly popular French cinema that one finds for example in the movies of Henri Verneuil, (people of no importance). We walk to Saint-Germain-des-prés, the Champs Elysées. The suburb is absent, as the popular classes or the working class. Historical movies are going to disappear, too and it is very late, with the color that Truffaut is going to make Adele H. A small detail still, at the end of the 50’s, the only two films that constitute defenses of abortion are two films of Autant-Lara’s very ignored, Diary of a woman in white and The new diary of a woman in white. These are films incredibly ahead of its time, bold and feminist. This topic is completely ignored by the New wave.
You are a storyteller extraordinaire. How do you manage to remember so many anecdotes, details, examples, quotes with this precision ?
B. T. : I do not note anything, I remember it. It keeps telling often. And then I’m very marked by episodes of my life that I will never forget. For example, statements of Gabin during our meetings, I know them almost word for word. I remembered expressions may also be because I’m a stage director, and all of a sudden I notice what interests me and say to me “this is how it should be run“. But expressions like “ the rabbit of flanders“ by Gabin…. this is totally unheard of this manner of speaking !
You devote a chapter to Gabin and a lot of filmmakers or composers. That of the men. Have you no passion for an actress, as Paul Vecchialli can have it for Danielle Darrieux ?
B. T. : I’m told that I’ll get right to the question ! I can’t find an example like Gabin. At the level of quality, though, this is danielle Darrieux, but she has never initiated a film. Gabin bought the rights to a book with Duvivier, created a cooperative to help start The great illusion, bought the rights to The crossing of paris (Marcel Aymé) with Jean Aurenche. There are no examples in the French cinema of people who invest so much. Gabin , co-produced The cat (Granier-Deferre). This commitment touches me. In addition, in the years 30, Gabin is not a lot, “gouré“ ! The female equivalent of Gabin today it is Catherine Deneuve or can be also with Jeanne Moreau. In the time that I deal with, there are of course plenty of actresses great as Mireille Balin, much more modern than we imagine in Threats ( Edmond T. Greville), or the highly underrated Annabella or Blanchette Brunoy which is a comedian tremendously just in all his films.
You’ve gone from spectator to film and then assistant director at press officer before becoming the filmmaker we know. The magic of cinema to which you pay homage, is it intact, is it the same on a film that we discover as a spectator on a film on which you worked ?
B. T. : Yes, the magic continues on all of these films. When I reviewed The contempt or Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda), I was completely blown away. La 317ème section (Pierre Schoendoerffer) is one of the largest sessions I have had in reviewing all of the films. It is a film that is “so great“. I continue to have tremendous shocks. Then recently, I saw The head of a man of Julien Duvivier , and I’ve revised a second time in a row as the shock has been great. It is unheard-of audacity. I’ve also tried to note all the daring, but there are so many in the narrative, in the staging,… And this beautiful song written by Duvivier and performed by Damia is of an extraordinary beauty.
Interview by Anne-Laure Farges