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|Index||15 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is about Manu, a young gay man, who moves to Paris. There he
meets Adrien, an older man, also gay. Adrien is in love with Manu, who
isn't interested in more than friendship. Adrien is also a good friend
of a young woman, Sarah, who's just had a baby, and her husband, Mehdi.
Sarah and Mehdi have an open relationship and are allowed to have
affairs with others. Mehdi starts an affair with Manu.
Like many other French movies, this one is told by a character, in voice-over; Sarah, who is writing Manu's life story. The story is about love in different ways, about being happy with who you are, and about the destroying struggle against AIDS.
It is set in the 80's, when the world first heard about the disease. Nobody knew what it was. It's beautifully shown how these characters deal with it when AIDS hits them and the people they love. The movie's never really sad, because the director doesn't have the typical long, sad scenes with slow music and lots of tears; just like life, the movie keeps going.
What also moved me in particular is the character of Julie, Manu's sister, played by Julie Depardieu. She doesn't have anyone in the world; no friends, no lover, just nobody, bu she manages life and isn't depressed about it; she's doing what she wants and loves, and that's enough for her. This movie tries to go against common belief in more than one way; you have the woman who doesn't have friends, but is still very happy, you have the woman who doesn't love her baby,... All these things aren't accepted by the public, but I think it's good to show that it can be different.
Les Témoins isn't widely marketed, but is certainly worth watching, if you want to see how a not-hollywoodfilm, and a slow, human film can be great. André Techiné also may not ring any bells, but anyone who is interested in French film-making has to see something by him. I certainly recommend it.
A somewhat schematic script - you can almost see the boxes being ticked
as each issue is dealt with - does not ultimately detract from a fine
achievement. The story surrounds the succumbing to HIV-AIDS by a
life-loving young man at the time when the world was taken by surprise
by the ferocity of the hitherto-unknown virus. The various reactions -
bewilderment, fear, panic, hatred, self-loathing, guilt, determination,
courage, loss, grief and, of course, love - are all charted in the five
There can be little argument, I'd have thought, concerning the excellence of Michel Blanc's performance; nor of the puzzling awfulness of Lorenzo Balducci's - whyever was this Italian actor cast as an American who had been brought up in Australia?
Julie Depardieu's character is the least developed of the central quintet but nevertheless the actress manages, as ever, to make a fully-rounded contribution.
Emanuelle Beart's striking features and dynamic screen presence make it difficult to assess her as an actress. In the end she didn't convince me she was any kind of writer, but she was entirely convincing as a mother with ambivalence to her baby. The scene where her character talks to her own mother (the late Maia Simon, in a brief but noteworthy final performance) about the difficulties surrounding her own birth is one of the most tender in the film.
Johan Libéreau is touching as the doomed Manu, fleshing out what seems to me to be a somewhat idealised character - unreflective but sensitive, foolhardy yet vulnerable.
But the film ultimately belongs to Sami Bouajila as the policeman who finds himself in the most unexpected of relationships. It's by far the most complex role and also, perhaps for that very reason, the most believable. Bouajila embraces the contradictions, possibly realising, as Heath Ledger proved so memorably in Brokeback Mountain, that struggles with sexuality can produce compelling drama.
Les Temoins is well edited, photographed and, on the whole, well directed. The influence of Truffaut's Jules Et Jim is all-pervading, but it's none the worse for that. The film's biggest advantage is that it tackles its subject in an entirely unsentimental way: the same script made in Hollywood would undoubtedly turn into something unspeakably gooey - the memory of Philadelphia, with which it could all too easily be compared, makes me shudder. Les Temoins is way, way above that.
I agree with some of these comments. By 1984 I thought we were more familiar with AIDS...maybe 82 is the year this should be set. My main gripe was the unconvincing make up Manu wears, and the way he doesn't lose weight. What was so shocking and devastating for those of us growing up with the onset of AIDS was running into people who were gorgeous, fit young and beautiful. Next time you saw them their faces were blemished, their bodies wasted, emaciated, skeletal like. I recall bareley recognising a young lad who'd once been a fixture on the scene. So the scenes where Manu is nursed through the terminal stages were less than convincing and left me somewhat unmoved. Otherwise its worth seeing and its sex positive, uplifting, life affirming attitude is a welcome riposte to Hollywoods schlocky treatment of the subject.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
André Téchiné's new movie about criss-crossing relationships marked by
the AIDS crisis begins when Adrien (Michel Blanc), a respectable gay
doctor, picks up a young, eager and definitely gay country boy from the
mountains in a Parisian cruising area. Adrien just wants to protect
young Manu (Johan Libéreau); there's no sex; but he takes the boy
everywhere and falls madly in love with him. Whatever shenanigans Manu
is up to, he's sweet to Adrien. A narcissist, he loves the attention.
He doesn't get that from Julie, (Julie Depardieu), the opera singer
sister he shares a cheap hotel room with. Adrien's idyll ends when Manu
gets a job in a remote camping ground and starts an affair with a
bisexual vice cop of Arab extraction named Mehdi (Sami Bouajila). It's
a small world, because not only have Manu and Mehdi met through Mehdi's
well-heeled wife, Sarah (a friend of Adrien's); Mehdi also minds the
seedy area where Manu lives with Julie and consorts with the local
whores. Sarah and Mehdi have an open marriage. They also have a baby
she doesn't much care for and she is getting tired of writing
children's books and wants to write a regular novel. After saving Manu
from drowning gives Mehdi a raging hard-on and they begin having daily
sex, this becomes something far too important to tell Sarah about.
All this is moved forward with a Nouvelle Vague-style retrospective voice-over spoken by Sarah, and this is Part One, entitled "Summer 1984: Happy Days." The happy days are not to last. The AIDS crisis is about to happen and Manu is going to be one of its early victims. The idea that this is a collective tragedy worthy of opera is underlined by Julie's singing and operatic background themes, not to mention the swirling merry-go-round of interactive relationships.
Many of these ingredients are familiar to Téchiné fans. The young gay boy from the mountains who goes wild in Paris has close parallels with the young Pierre (played by an actor named Manu, Manuel Blanc) in the 1991 J'embrasse pas (I Don't Kiss), who likewise comes from the mountains, winds up in a promiscuous gay life as a hustler, and initially finds an older gay protector at a Parisian cruising area (and this film also has Béart in the cast). I Don't Kiss focuses mainly on Pierre, but in it many paths cross. A love triangle and bisexuality are central to the 1994 Wild Reeds (Les roseaux sauvages), another period film, though it's set in the Sixties. Criss-crossing, bisexuality, and a brother-sister combination are found in Les Voleurs (Thieves, 1996). These are all fine, fascinating films. The Witnesses partakes of the same complexity. There is something radical about Téchiné's ability to avoid a central action or central character, yet keep things interesting--even more interesting because of the unpredictability of the interactions and an openness toward behavior the straight world tends to see as forbidden or transgressive.
Les Voleurs is complicated in this way, but it's anchored in a powerful sense of family and place, and made exciting by the fact that one main character is a representative of the law and several others he's personally involved with are, as the title implies, criminals. Wild Reeds is a kind of triple coming of age film, and has simplicity and focus through a tranquil provincial setting and the relatively simple life of the three youths, with the Algerian war a vague but powerful magnetic force in the background. It's more sympathetic toward the gay boy and his sensitive "girlfriend" than toward the bisexual youth who breaks his heart, but the latter's dark appeal is unmistakable. Téchiné's mastery of the odd and unexpected relationship is never more evident than in the intense, transitory union between a wild, mysterious boy called Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel) and a Parisian mother fleeing WWII bombs in the country (Béart again) whom he rescues in Strayed (Les Égarés)--a story of intense freshness marked by Téchiné's great sense of landscape and ability to blend sweeping, evocative tracking shots and vivid close-ups. The look of The Witnesses isn't as beautiful and consistent, but there are many nice little visual details. The faces will stay with you: Mehdi's hyperactive eyes, muscular brow, and disturbed jaw, Adrien's intelligent, bourgeois solidity, his pale shaved dome, has stylish round glasses; Sarah's distracted gaze and scruffy bleached hair; Manu's wild eagerness and frequent smiles, then his skin ravaged by lesions. Also memorable visually are Manu's little light-footed leaps over barriers and onto branches, which Adrien observes admiringly but does not try to follow.
It's disconcerting to discover that Manu isn't central to The Witnesses because when AIDS takes him away, life goes on. Adrien has become part of the teams of French doctors frantically seeking to manage the disease. This is Part Two: "The War" (against AIDS). Mehdi is terrified that he is infected, but when he learns that he isn't, his life can resume in new but not altogether different directions. Sarah, against his wishes, brings Manu's story into her adult novel. The couple makes love again, but Mehdi also begins taking Julie up in the little airplanes that were part of his courtship of Manu and she begins to replace Manu in his affections. There's a slight danger that The Witnesses will seem like a Telenovela. Manu's story ends, he drops out of the series, and a new sequence begins. The coda entitled "Summer Returns" is both premature and excessive. The film feels a bit as if it's gone on too long and doesn't really know how to end. But the point is still a valid one, at least for the cross section of society, young and old, sophisticated and naïve, creative and blocked, rich and poor, integrated into the ingenious and characteristically Téchiné-esquire story. La vie continue. The witnesses survive.
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
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I recently saw this at the 2008 Palm Springs International Film Festival. This is the story of Maunu (Johan Libéreau), a young gay man from the country who is past high school but is not attending a university and instead arrives at his sister Julie's (Julie Depardieu) in Paris who is a struggling but talented opera singer and living in a dilapidated hotel where only hookers live. Cruising the city parks, Manhu befriends an older gay doctor Adrien (Michel Blanc) and develops a platonic relationship with him although Adrien is enamored with Manu. Adrien is best friends with Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart) who is a struggling writer and a new mother. Sarah's husband is Medhi (Sami Bouajila) who is a vice cop and the principal parent of their child who Sarah prefers to ignore and doesn't even want to be a mother. Mehi and Manu begin a surprising and unlikely relationship. This is a good movie but seems kind of sliced together in it's storyline. One good character is the streetwalker Sandra (Constance Pollé) who seems like is going to be a central character but then disappears from the film. Manu who has a wealthy benefactor in Adrien impossibly wears the same clothes throughout the film. Medhi and Manu and Medhi and Sarah have absolutely no on screen chemistry. AIDS is treated in 1984 as being so new that no one except the doctor Adrien has ever heard of it before and it's brand new on all the television newscasts yet AIDS was at that new phenomenon point in 1982 not 1984. The relationships between Manu and Adrien, Manu and Medhi, Manu and Julie are never properly developed because there is too much going on in this film. We never really understand how Adrien and Sarah became lifelong friends and it doesn't seem like they really care for each other anyway. Satah and Manu never have any kind of established friendship. Veteran filmmaker, director, writer André Téchiné directs and co-wrote the screenplay with Laurent Guyot and Viviane Zingg. Nice cinematography from Julien Hirsh. Michel Blanc is the commanding acting presence in this film. I would give this a 6.5 out of 10.
This script is perfection. The directing is awesome. The actors
are---every single one---sexy. The plot is surprising. The climax is
heartbreaking. The depth of these stories is revelatory. The dialogue
is witty. The characters are cherishable. The editing is astonishing.
In summation, this brilliant film is revealing, true, brutal, funny.
Sexy are the actors. Sad is the plot. True is the reflection of these
lives in these times. Sexy are the actors. Sad is the story. True is
the movie. Perfection is the movie. Bravo to all.
I don't get this minimum of 1,000 words. I loved this movie. I will say it again and again.
And it's sexy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm sorry, but I don't join all the praise that is given here. I really
enjoyed this movie and acknowledge the gripping premise, and the good
acting and direction. But I didn't like the script very much. All
characters seemed a bit bland and there was little connection between
any of them, even the supposed lovers like Manu and Adrien or Mehdi and
Sarah. In fact, it seemed to me as if everyone was very much focusing
on themselves and I couldn't find any sympathetic character among all
of them. Take Manu's sister Julie, who even at the day of the funeral
of her brother seemed to care more for her cherished role in an opera;
or Adrien, who loses himself in his role of potential savior of the
AIDS-epidemic; or Mehdi, who was more involved with fear for his own
health, and who switches shamelessly between Manu, Sarah and in the end
even Manu's sister, while in the meantime relentlessly executing a
witch-hunt on brothels and prostitutes, even if this means hurting
innocent people like Julie. Or Sarah, who sees her baby not as a
responsibility but as a burden.
Sure enough, Manu's character is endearing: young and careless and on top of everything in the beginning, but in his (extremely improbable) affair with Medhi he doesn't hesitate a minute to sack Adrien in a very harsh way.
The whole AIDS-related section with Adrien (who at the start of the movie impressed me as a low-key local physician) suddenly becoming a professor and a national AIDS-expert, and all the lecture-like information on the disease, struck me as a bit patronizing and undermined the dramatic storyline. Furthermore the movie seems like 20 minutes too long, the part after Manu's death doesn't fit in at all. Are we to think, in witnessing in the final scene yet another peaceful picnic at the river, that everything is as it was before? The new boyfriend for Adrien is as improbable as the coupling of Manu and Medhi (even Adrien seems to think that). And why this complicated nationality-issue, whatever language he spoke it never did come out as genuine. And as someone already commented on this site: did Manu really have only one shirt and one pair of trousers?!?
On the other hand I have to praise Sami Bouajila and young Johan Libéreau, they did an excellent job and carried the whole movie. And for some reason I really liked the photography, it has this French quality of balancing between the intimate and the claustrophobic and makes French movies often feel like your stepping into someone's private home. And most important of all: Téchiné succeeds in avoiding all larmoyancy: it's as if the fast pace of the movie tries to keep up with the lively spirit of Manu, the story waltzes around the rocks of melodrama and as such it resembles Real Life itself: in spite of everything the band has to play on.
My experience of films with a male gay theme is very limited having only seen Hollywood's most recent output before Les Temoins. It is a film that I found both refreshing and pleasantly surprising in the way in which it approaches and represents a physical gay relationship. Sex is shown to be sensitive and loving. It shows such a versatile tenderness from both parties and Sami Bouajila's performance as the character of Mehdi evokes such genuine feelings that I was moved to tears. In addition to this, I found Les Temoins an extremely beautiful film to watch visually, its very blue and yellow colour-scape providing a serene backdrop for the action. For someone looking for a much gentler yet highly gripping tale of gay love this is a film I would highly recommend.
Overall, this movie was OK. The male lead actors all were very good and believable in their parts. The homosexuality was presented in a natural, matter-of-fact manner, instead of pedantic or problematic. The way the start of the aids era was captured was disturbing, but it seemed very realistic. There were some things in this movie that annoyed me however. First of all, the female characters. Depardieu is your typical withdrawn, a-sexual, artistic, female French cinema archetype. I can live with that though. Far more irritating was the presence of Beart, who was totally miscast. What is a blown-up plastic Barbie doll doing in a movie that is situated in the early eighties, when plastic surgery was not even properly born yet?? Her acting is (partly due to her renovated face) very flat and expressionless and it would have been better if she had been altogether left out. An other revealing mistake is the American guy/gay, who shows up in the last part of the movie; quite confusing when a character who is so proud of his multi-lingual talents has such a strong foreign accent when he speaks his mother tongue...
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