If you love film you can’t afford to miss the experience of seeing Bertrand Tavernier’s Journey Through French Cinema, especially on a theater screen. When I first saw it at the Telluride Film Festival last fall I was wary of its extreme length (over three hours) and an early-morning time slot. I needn’t have worried: I was glued to the screen from start to finish and when it was over I wanted more!
Tavernier is a master storyteller, as he has proven in such films as The Clockmaker, Coup de Torchon, A Sunday in the Country, ‘Round Midnight, and Safe Passage, to name just a few. This endeavor is an expansive, highly personal view of French films from the 1930s onward, as seen through his eyes. He discusses his youthful moviegoing experiences, his later work alongside Jacques Becker and Jean-Pierre Melville (detailing their peccadilloes), and his conversations with such towering figures as Jean Gabin. A child of World War Two, he points fingers at talented directors who did not behave admirably during that turbulent time. This is a tapestry of French cinema like no other. (The only film that compares to it is his friend and colleague Martin Scorsese’s My Voyage to Italy.)
You will encounter acknowledged classics like Grand Illusion, The Rules of the Game, Children of Paradise, Bob Le Flambeur, and Le Samourai, but you will notice things you never truly saw before because of the context Tavernier provides. You will also be introduced to films that are less familiar, along with their creators—Edmond T. Gréville, Claude Autant-Lara, and such once-famous figures as Marcel Carne, Henri Verneuil, and the great Julien Duvivier.
My Journey Through French Cinema will make you want to see every movie that’s excerpted in its entirety. Never fear: Tavernier is hard at work trying to persuade distributors to restore and reissue many titles and hoping to issue some of their music scores as well.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for French cinema; perhaps that’s why this survey affected me as it did. But then, the French have a unique relationship with film. No one could possibly express that sentiment better than Monsieur Tavernier. I will quote from the press notes for My Journey Through French Cinema:
“Working as a citizen, a spy, an explorer and painter, a chronicler and adventurer, as it is so well described by so many authors, from Casanova to Gilles Perrault…isn’t that a fine definition of the job of a filmmaker? That one would like to apply to Renoir, Becker, the Vigo of L’ATALANTE, Grangier, Greìville or Sacha, who, in a scene or film, illumine an emotion, or uncover surprising truths. I would like this film to be an expression of gratitude to all those filmmakers, screenwriters, actors, and musicians who have erupted into my life. Memory keeps us warm: this film is a piece of glowing charcoal for a winter night.”
My Voyage Through French Cinema opens today at the Quad Cinema in New York City and the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles. To learn more about where and when it will be playing near you, click HERE