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June 1984 to June 1985, from happy days to war to summer's return. A middle-aged doctor in Paris, Adrien, meets Manu, a young gay man from the provinces who lives with his sister, an opera singer. Adrien likes Manu, loves him even, in a Platonic relationship. Sarah, a writer, and Mehdi, a vice-squad cop, have an infant. Sarah discovers she has no taste for parenthood. Adrien bring Manu to Sarah's country cabin where Mehdi saves Manu from drowning. Back in Paris, an affair begins as a plague descends on Parisian gays. There are tests, illness, anger, relief, separations, and death. A year later, these friends meet again at the summer place. They are witnesses to how happiness has changed. Written by
Les Témoins (The Witnesses) is another fine artwork by French director André Téchiné that continues to examine relationships in times of stress and through areas of rough travel. As written by Téchiné, Laurent Guyot, and Viviane Zingg this film is a love story and a social commentary on life in 1984 when AIDS raised its ugly head and disrupted lives, hopes and relationships. What could have been a heavy-handed woeful tale is instead a story about ordinary people and how the spectre of the then 'new disease' affected a small group of friends. In the intimacy of the story there is an opportunity to reflect and to see more clearly the atmosphere of that time in history.
Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart) is a writer of children's books married to Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), a member of the Paris police force vice squad. They have an open marriage and have just given birth to a baby boy - a factor that disrupts their separate lives while conflicting their married life. Sarah has a physician friend Adrien (Michel Blanc, so memorable in his role in 'Monsieur Hire') who is gay, and while he is older, he still longs for the company of young men. Adrien meets the young catering student Manu (Johan Libéreau), a lad whose sexual appetite is satisfied by trysts in parks, back rooms of bars, etc. Manu and his opera singer sister Julie (Julie Depardieu) live modestly in a sleazy hotel cum brothel that is under surveillance by Mehdi. Adrien and Manu strike up a friendship and are invited to join Sarah and Mehdi to Sarah's mother's cabin by the sea and while there a relationship between Manu and Mehdi begins, one that will become an affair in secret.
A strange disease comes to public attention and it is Adrien who is in charge of the investigation of the disease now called AIDS. Though Adrien's ties with Manu have become platonic while Manu see Mehdi daily, Adrien is the first to notice lesions on Manu, lesions that are the hallmark of AIDS. How this discovery affects the lives of each of the characters we have met (the 'witnesses' to a very important time in our history) serves as the crux of the story - part tragedy and part a torch of resilience the weaves the story to a close in an honest, touching but never maudlin manner.
The acting is consistently excellent, the sort of ensemble acting that keeps the focus on the message of the film rather than on individual attention to characters. The movie is beautifully photographed by Julien Hirsch and the musical score by Philippe Sarde wisely blends excerpts from Vivaldi and Mozart with original music that recalls the 1980s. This is yet another triumph for André Téchiné - a film that deserves the widest possible audience. Grady Harp
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