“My Journey Through French Cinema” (France)
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier
In my review for a different film I mentioned how I’d seen two three-hour plus film in 24 hours and that one felt it’s length and the other did not. Originally I judged this as the much tougher slog…but, looking back a day and a half later, I must admit, my viewpoint has changed dramatically. This is a singularly extraordinary filmed essay by director Bernard Tavernier, detailing his experience of the early French Cinema of his past and present…and how those experiences changed his view of film. It is academic, but, I believe, absolutely worth the effort if you are lover of film.
Breaking up his view of each luminary in their own 15-30 minutes sections, Tavernier acts as professor, showing us scene after scene after scene, in minute detail, of just what impulses, decisions, and talents make these films so important and unforgettable. There are sections where he clearly holds the artist in higher regard than others, and, as you can imagine, these are more engaging. Most notably, these include the early segments on Jacques Becker (“Casque D’Or”, Touchez Paz au Grisbi”, “Le Trou”) and actor, Jean Gabin (“La Grande Illusion”, “Blood To the Head”, “Les Miserables”). That he is unable to bring the energy and passion to some others is understandable, given the depth of the film’s content.
One of the most engaging aspects of the film’s focus, for me, is his ability to juxtapose earlier French Cinema with both World Wars, and France’s place in history in general. As someone who firmly believes that a film being of its time does not preclude it from achieving “timeless” status, I was, quite literally leaning forward watching and listening (okay, reading subtitles) with child-like rapture.
Kudos, also, to Mr. Tavernier, for including segments about the leading film music composers over the ages. Sadly lamenting that most of it, if not quite all, is lost to us, he explains the myriad way that French composers (and their collaborations with directors), were utilizing scores in very different ways than their Hollywood counterparts of the time. As a collector of scores, I was astonished to hear this music anew, and felt a tinge of pain that we won’t be able to hear much of their greatest accomplishments in the same manner that we can, say, listen to the most insignificant and minor scores of Hermann or Morricone as easily as searching the Apple Music app.
So, I am forced to recognize that this giant, and yes, LENGTHY, work of art, is deserving of the incredible attention it is receiving. It should make you, as it did me, want to immediately find/(re)discover these films…even if you, like me, had seen some and not thought much of them. I will now view them with a very different eye.
Oh…and there is a Part Two apparently coming down the pipe as well. Better bring my Alleve.
Written on 10/17/2016