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This documentary tells two stories simultaneously: it's a profile of Bernard Tapie, a wealthy man who rises and falls spectacularly in French society and may be on the rise again; and, it's a look at Marina Zenovich's fascination with Tapie, behaving oddly in spite of her awareness that she's being irrational. Politicians, athletes, friends, companions, and journalists comment on Bernard's charm, his rise to prominence in sports and politics, and his subsequent trouble with the law. Zenovich becomes fixated on her need to interview Tapie, becoming virtually a stalker in her quest. Written by
A personalized documentary on a maverick Frenchman by a besotted American lady...!
I came upon this documentary by accident, on Tuesday night, having the TV on, tuned to BBC 2. My interest was captured by it early on, and I was increasingly entertained and informed by it.
Part of BBC 2's ongoing "Storyville" series, this documentary concerns Bernard Tapie and the film's director, Marina Zenovich's somewhat neurotic attempts to get to meet the man himself. There's no doubt, watching this film that Ms. Zenovich is genuinely interested in - perhaps even amusingly obsessed by - Tapie. It comes across as an engaging, overt relation of director to source material, with Marina present on camera to a large extent. One could say this was a self-indulgence on her part, but there is plenty of material in this hour long feature consisting of interviews conducted with people close at some stage to Tapie and footage for example of his film role, his rap duet and his debating with Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Bernard Tapie is indeed a worthy subject for Zenovich to peruse. The director seems to pore over this man with an increasingly riveted deadpan awe, and with reason. He has been Marseilles football club's chairman and seemingly hands-on team manager at the same time, a venture capitalist, a left-wing minister for housing in the Mitterand Government, with a gift for populism and communication, a lead film actor, a singer, a folk hero for the common man, part of a rap duo and a convict due to corruption charges. Ever embossed with a winning, genial Frenchman's charm, and remarkable energy.
In some ways I feel Zenovich could have gone further into probing his enigma, but it must be admitted she is persistent, if neurotic, in trying to find out more about this elusive character.
It does seem at times that the film is as much concerned with her relationship to Tapie as journalist, and, increasingly as the film wears on, star-struck fan - than actually with Tapie's character. "Who is Bernard Tapie?" is indeed an amusing portrait of this driven yet self-conscious, somewhat kooky American woman becoming ever more intrigued by Bernard Tapie... It is interesting and perhaps heartening that Zenovich presents, in the finished film, her somewhat beleaguered attempts to track down and collar Tapie, in all their detail.
It is certainly a very good documentary, succeeding where that genre must, in fully engaging the viewer; making me want to find out more about this bizarre gentleman. You are indeed never really called upon to take the film's pronouncements as objective, with Ms. Zenovich center stage and thus embodying the film's subjectivity.
Perhaps it could have been longer and even more in depth, but it seems churlish to complain as it is thoroughly enjoyable, rounded stuff, put together with a certain flair by the director. Self-indulgent? Or an affectingly personalized take on this form? Either way, it does work. As Tom Paulin might well say if he were to be given the chance, this could be called a classic example of modern Americana as represented by Marina Zenovich, as placed against and bedazzled by, old world European charisma and complexity... A fine documentary, and I do hope to see more of Marina Zenovich's work.
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