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First thing to bear in mind is that it is "TAVERNIER' s voyage ,not the history of the French cinema.But a good knowledge of it is necessary ,hence the disappointment of some people (if I had to watch a Korean director 's voyage through the Korean cinema ,I would yawn my head off).
Bertrand Tavernier is certainly a great director and a fine connoisseur of the past masters of the seventh art.
The first half ,to my eyes ,is the most interesting:it is composed of four parts :
1)Jacques Becker :the first film he saw was "Dernier Atout" but his "Coup De Foudre" was "Casque D'Or";he passes over in silence the director's failures ("Ali Baba" and "Arsène Lupin") and insists on the fact that in a movie the characters are more interesting than the plot and we can only approve of Tavernier's opinion ,when he says that Becker's plots are minimal ,but that he creates extraordinary secondary characters (one remembers the uncle who studied in Oxford from "Edouard Et Caroline as much as Manda's fiancé in "Casque D'Or") ;besides ,these human beings work,a lesson contemporary directors should pay attention to)
2)Jean Renoir : the extracts are well chosen: the admirable final sequence of "Une Partie De Campagne" ;this terrifying scene when Gabin tries to strangle Blanchette Brunoy in "La Bête Humaine" ; the advertising in "Le Crime De Monsieur Lange" which was oddly prophetic.Tavernier does not pass over in silence Renoir's debatable attitude at the beginning of WW2.
3)Jean Gabin : the director wanted to show that he was a character actor and he's convincing.This part shows extracts of movies by less known directors :"La Nuit Est Mon Royaume" by Georges Lacombe in which he is cast against type as a blind man ;He restores to favor directors who were unfairly lambasted by the arrogant Nouvelle Vague : Gilles Grangier's "Le Desordre Et La Nuit" and "Gas Oil" ,and mainly Jean Delannoy's "Maigret Tend Un Piège " ,one of the best Simenon adaptations .The biggest flaw of the Gabin sequence is that ,although he mentions him, Tavernier seems to forget that it's Julien Duvivier,not Renoir,who created the myth.What have we got here ? From the thirties, a very tiny fragment of "La Belle Equipe " whereas this movie represents the 1936 zeitgeist ;and what about "La Bandera " which spawned Gabin-the-outcast (Carné would use in "Quai Des Brumes" )?
4)Marcel Carné: "his collaborators,be they Jeanson or Prevert ,used to treat him condescendingly ,nay contempt.So did the notorious Nouvelle Vague although Truffaut would later make amends and say he would trade all his "filmography " for "Les Enfants Du Paradis ".And however,Tavernier concludes ,his masterpieces have stood the test of time gracefully .This part shows glorious Arletty in a flattering light .And to begin this sequence with the (dated ,admittedly ,although it was his next-to -last effort in the...seventies!)"Assassins De L'Ordre" ,is,as Tavernier says himself,a provocation.
The second part is , IMHO, less exciting,although its several absorbing moments make it a worthwhile watch.
1)The music in films ,focussing of Jaubert who passed away in 1940 ,after giving memorable scores ,notably "Carnet De Bal" and "La Bête Humaine" ;Tavernier points out that,unlike the American directors of the era, French ones would choose their music :hence the extraordinary scores of Bresson's "Un Condamné A Mort S'est Echappé "or Cocteau's "La Belle Et La Bête".
2)Edmond T GReville :his work is not very known in France ;with the exceptions of "Menaces" and "L'Envers Du Paradis" ,none of the works I've seen ("brief ecstasy" "secret life" "Le Port Du Désir" "Les Menteurs" "L'accident") really filled me with enthusiasm.But Tavernier talks about two very attracting movies : "Remous" and "Le Diable Soufflé " which are ,alas,nowhere to be seen.
3)Eddie Constantine sequence :"at a time when French thrillers were sluggish" ..Well Decoin ,sluggish? And what about Henri-Georges Clouzot ,totally absent in the whole documentary,not a single extract?Constantine's movies ,OK ,just for fans.Tavernier keeps harping about on Tarentino ,particularly "inglorious bastards " ,in which the American pays a tribute to Clouzot (twice).
3)A long time is given over to Jean-Pierre Melville ,who was Tavernier's mentor;much good may it do to his numerous fans .Personally ,my favorite is "Leon Morin Prêtre " ,particularly for the Belmondo/Riva confrontation.
4)As far as I am concerned, Jean-Luc Godard is not my cup of tea,but there's no accounting for taste .These pictures may be sublime ,after all...But as for me,the short appearance of Fritz Lang remains the only good moment.The Nouvelle VAguelette is also represented by Claude Chabrol (but the choice of the movies is poor)and the lovely "Cléo De Cinq A Sept".
5)Claude Sautet's extracts ,on the other hand ,are excellent: the extraordinary "Classes Tous Risques" ,"Les Choses De LA vie ",an editing Tour De Force ,and his short return to thriller with "Max Et Les Ferrailleurs".
Mini- sequences are devoted to Jean Delannoy's "Le Garçon Sauvage " ,to Pierre Schoendorffer 's "La 317 Eme section" and ,yes! to Truffaut.
TO be continued as a miniseries on TV.....(8 more episodes)
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