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It's hard not to smile at the giddiness in Bertrand Tavernier's voice as he recounts the French films that inspired him in his youth and fascinated him in his later years. "My Journey Through French Cinema" is a French-language film documenting Tavernier's love for the rich French history of film, reaching back as early as Jacques Becker and extending as close to the present as Jean Renoir and Lino Ventura. Tavernier's passion carries much of the film, as does a very well-edited and well-selected series of clips from the films in question. But ultimately, the film's own nature undermines it.
This is by no means the most excitingly framed documentary ever made. It features only Tavernier as an interview subject, with famous French directors and actors popping up intermittently in historical footage.
Tavernier wonderfully narrates the odyssey through his youth, and the amount of personal history he brings to it is charming, but there isn't enough effort put into the presentation outside of the film clips. It's fun to see Jean Claude Belmondo in "Léon Morin, Priest" and Alain Delon in "Le Samourai," but when we cut back to the same stale office setting with Tavernier for a few brief, fleeting seconds before being thrust back into a three-hour film history lecture, the film only nurses its disconnect between subject and audience.
Consider "David Lynch: The Art Life" or "Listen to Me, Marlon," two documentaries of immense power that draw all of their flair, excitement, intrigue and depth from how they choose to approach their subjects. Here, Tavernier structures his film as a lecture. There, those documentaries are art. The final product of Tavernier's work is a passionate study of French cinema, but one that cannot hold appeal for those unfamiliar with "Le Grande Illusion," "Army of Shadows" or "Breathless."
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