Auteur and film historian Bertrand Tavernier takes viewers on a fascinating, deeply personal trip into the world of early French movies in the extraordinary My Journey through French Cinema. Inspired by Martin Scorsese’s 1995 A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies and 1999 My Voyage to Italy, the French auteur recounts how he believes that going to the theater as a child helped him survive a serious illness and led to a lifelong love of cinema; he even battled and beat cancer while making this documentary. In more than three hours that fly by surprisingly quickly, Tavernier examines dozens and dozens of French films, not looking at them as a historian or a fan but as a fellow director; in addition, the film unfolds neither chronologically nor thematically but in a delightfully charming stream of consciousness as Tavernier shares personal anecdotes that lead him from film to film and director to director. He begins by describing the first movie that had a major impact on him, Jacques Becker’s Dernier Atout, and moves on to his days working with Volker Schlöndorff for Jean-Pierre Melville, who thought he was a terrible assistant and turned him into a publicist; Tavernier also wrote for Les Cahiers du cinema and Positif. Through voiceover and onscreen appearances, Tavernier spends a lot of time discussing Melville (Bob le flambeur, Le Doulos) and Claude Sautet (Classe tous risques), whom he considers his cinematic godfathers; Becker (Casque d’Or, Le Trou); Jean Renoir (A Day in the Country, Rules of the Game); Marcel Carné (Le jour se lève, Hôtel du Nord); Jean-Luc Godard (Contempt, Pierrot le fou); composers Maurice Jaubert (Port of Shadows, L’Atalante) and Joseph Kosma (Le Chat, House on the Waterfront); and actors Jean Gabin (La Bȇte Humaine, Grand Illusion) and Eddie Constantine (Alphaville, Cet homme est dangereux). Also garnering significant mention are Jean Sacha, Gilles Grangier, Henri Decoin, Jean Delannoy, Edmond T. Gréville, Lino Ventura, and Pierre Schoendoerffer.
What makes My Journey through French Cinema so special is that Tavernier, who has made such films as The Clockmaker, Coup de Torchon, and ’Round Midnight, approaches his subjects from the point of view of a director, examining camera angles, sound, script writing, music, dialogue, and performance; it’s not so much a crash course as a master class that only Tavernier could give, adding insightful stories of his vast experience in the industry, alongside archival footage of some of the people he is discussing. And oh, the clips; there are hundreds of scenes of well-known and under-the-radar films that fans are going to want to revisit or see for the first time after watching Tavernier wax eloquent about their subtle joys. (Be aware: He sometimes goes right to the ending.) “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,” Tavernier notes in a statement. “Memory keeps us warm: This film is a piece of glowing charcoal for a winter night.” In the documentary itself, he pays tribute to “filmmakers who believe that movies could change things a bit, who believed, as Renoir told me one day, you have to make a film thinking that you’ll change the course of history. But you also must be humble enough to think, if you touch two people, you’ve done something extraordinary.” In My Journey through French Cinema, Tavernier has done something extraordinary indeed here, becoming “what every French creator should be: a French ambassador to France,” as his mentor Melville once said to him of Jean Cocteau. And like Scorsese, Tavernier is a film preservationist; because of the documentary, many of these old works are now being restored. My Journey opens June 23 at the Quad, with Tavernier participating in a Q&A after the 4:45 show on June 24. The Quad is also presenting “Tavernier Treasures,” four films selected by Tavernier by other directors, as well as “Film & Nothing But: Bertrand Tavernier,” a retrospective that continues through June 29. Tavernier will be at many of the screenings to talk about the works. (And there’s more to come, as Tavernier is making an eight-hour series for French television that continues his cinematic adventure.)
After closing the 2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Brian Knappenberger’s Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is getting a theatrical run at IFC beginning June 23, the same day the Netflix original begins streaming on the channel. The film is a deeply troubling look into the growing battle between billionaires and the fourth estate, between a person’s right to privacy and freedom of the press. Knappenberger begins by exploring the landmark Bollea v. Gawker case, in which Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea, sued online media outlet Gawker for posting nine seconds of a tape depicting Bollea having sex with Heather Clem, the wife of his then-best friend, Todd Alan Clem, better known as radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge. The jury awarded Bollea $140 million, bankrupting Gawker, but Knappenberger reveals that the case was about a lot more than invasion of privacy — it was really about control of the media by the extremely wealthy. And Hogan/Bollea is not that wealthy. “Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because this case is so sleazy and rests on sex that it’s not important; this is one of the most important First Amendment cases in American history,” says Leslie Savan, who blogs on politics and the media for The Nation. “We’re talking about the very notion of truth,” she later adds. Knappenberger speaks extensively with Gawker cofounder Nick Denton, who defends what the company did as well as its overall journalistic ethics, covering stories that others wouldn’t; Knappenberger also meets with Gawker cofounder Elizabeth Spiers; former editor in chief A. J. Daulerio, who posted the Hogan story and sees himself as a patsy; former deputy editor James Wright; Hogan lawyers David Houston and Charles Harder; and former Gawker executive editor John Cook, who is boldly outspoken about Gawker’s purpose. “I wanted to write true things about bad people, and that’s what Gawker gave us all the freedom to do,” he says. First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams notes, “The reason to save Gawker was not because Gawker is worth saving. The reason to save it is that we don’t pick and choose what sort of publications are permissible, because once we do, it empowers the government to limit speech in a way that ought to be impermissible.” Among the other talking heads offering compelling insight are Politico media writer Peter Sterne, associate professor of journalism Jay Rosen, Buzzfeed business reporter Will Alden, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, and former New York Times columnist David Carr. The story takes a strange turn when it is discovered that there were potential improprieties involving Judge Pamela Campbell and that the lawsuit is being funded by billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who was outed by Gawker in 2007 and is now exacting a dangerous kind of revenge.
Knappenberger then shifts to Las Vegas, where the well-respected Las Vegas Review-Journal is sold to a mystery buyer. A stalwart group of reporters, including Mike Hengel, Jennifer Robison, and John L. Smith, risk their careers in discovering that it’s right-wing casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is unhappy about negative articles written about him. “Some stories are worth losing your job over,” Robison says. The lengths to which Thiel, who later spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention and served on Donald Trump’s transition team, and Adelson, a major player in the political arena, go in order to try to silence the press are absolutely terrifying. Knappenberger (The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists) concludes with a look at Trump himself, who regularly attacks the media, calling them liars that spread fake news, threatening violence against them, and promising that “we’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.” Although some of the narrative shifts are a bit clumsy and the film gets too high and mighty at the end, Knappenberger’s point is clear, that the media is under attack from a small group of thin-skinned billionaires who believe they are more powerful than the truth and have made the press their avowed enemy.
João Pedro Rodrigues reimagines the story of Fernando Martins de Bulhões, also known as Anthony of Lisbon and Saint Anthony of Padua, in the utterly bizarre and infectiously weird adventure drama The Ornithologist. Rodrigues, who also dealt with the thirteenth-century priest’s legacy in the 2013 zombie short Morning of Saint Anthony’s Day, puts ornithologist Fernando (Paul Hamy) through a series of tests after his canoe capsizes while he’s on a bird-watching expedition. He is found near death on the shore by a pair of Chinese pilgrims (Han Wen and Chan Suan), walking Camino de Santiago, who decide to do something very odd with him. His Stations of the Cross journey continues as he meets a deaf and mute goatherd (Xelo Cagiao), a group of colorful, masked caretos, and a trio of topless women on horseback (Juliane Elting, Isabelle Puntel, and Flora Bulcao), who in different ways challenge his sexuality and spirituality. Rodrigues (The Last Time I Saw Macao, To Die Like a Man) infuses the wild tale with references to Christianity, paganism, ritual, superstition, and Greek mythology as Fernando’s physical and psychological strength is tested in oddball events that get stranger and stranger until the director, who was already dubbing in Hamy’s Portuguese lines with his own voice, starts switching places with the actor.
When he was younger, Rodrigues had a major interest in ornithology, and he relates that to filmmaking early on. Fernando stops in his canoe and takes out his binoculars to look at a bird soaring above him and follows a black stork protecting its eggs in partially hidden reeds; the director cuts to our view of the bird, comparing the binoculars to the movie camera while also putting us inside Fernando’s head. The dazzling cinematography is by Rodrigues regular Rui Poças; everything was shot on location, with no interiors or studio sets. The stellar art direction and production design is by cowriter and regular Rodrigues collaborator João Rui Guerra da Mata, and the subtly haunting score is by Séverine Ballon. “I have to admit this Fernando, the future Anthony, gradually became infused with my personal story. While he may live inside me, in a way I returned the favor and made myself live inside him,” Rodrigues explains in his poignant director’s statement. “My film is a purposefully transgressive and blasphemous re-appropriation of the saint’s life.” Saint Anthony is the patron saint of lost things; after seeing the film, audiences will be happy that they found it.
In Bertrand Tavernier’s sweeping romantic epic, young and beautiful Marie de Mézières (Mélanie Thierry) has a big problem: It seems that every man she meets falls in love with her. Already in a passionate relationship with the heroic Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), a leader of the Catholics against the Protestant Huguenots in the French Wars of Religion of the 1560s, Marie is suddenly part of a shady deal between her father (Philippe Magnan) and the Duke de Montpensier (Michel Vuillermoz), marrying her off to the rather uninspiring though steadfast Prince Philippe de Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), who warms to his bride much quicker than she to him. Returning to the battlefield, Philippe asks his mentor, the older and wiser Count de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson), to teach Marie in the ways of the court to prepare her for meeting Catherine de Medici, but even such a solid, moralistic man as Chabannes — who deserted from the army after killing a peasant family, supposedly in the name of his lord and saviour — cannot prevent himself from succumbing to the many charms of his unaware charge. And when she meets the wild and unpredictable Duke d’Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz), the king’s brother is smitten as well. But through it all, Marie, a modern woman who wants to learn to write and make her own choices, remains fiercely drawn to Henri, a forbidden love that threatens dire consequences. Based on the 1662 novella by Madame de La Fayette, The Princess of Montpensier is a thrilling tale of love and war, of honor and betrayal.
Master filmmaker Tavernier (The Clockmaker of Saint-Paul, A Sunday in the Country), who cowrote the daring script with longtime collaborator Jean Cosmos and François-Oliver Rousseau, focuses on character and story rather than pomp and circumstance, creating an intoxicating intimacy often missing from the genre. Thierry is alluring as Marie, who can be seen as an early feminist in a time when women were little more than possessions. Even at two hours and twenty minutes, the film flies by; you’ll feel sorry you can’t spend more time with the many wonderfully drawn characters who help make The Princess of Montpensier such a marvelous treat. The film is screening at the Quad on June 27 at 4:00 in the series “Film & Nothing But: Bertrand Tavernier,” consisting of seventeen Tavernier films being shown in conjunction with the theatrical release of his new documentary, My Journey through French Cinema, which opens June 23 at the Quad; Tavernier will introduce or participate in Q&As at nine screenings, including A Week’s Vacation, Death Watch, and Safe Conduct. In addition, he’ll be at all four films that make up “Tavernier Treasures,” a quartet of his favorites: Marcel Carné’s Hôtel du Nord, Pierre Schoendoerffer’s The 317th Platoon, Jacques Becker’s It Happened at the Inn, and Henri Decoin’s The Truth of Our Marriage..
IN TRANSIT (Albert Maysles, Lynn True, Nelson Walker, David Usui, and Ben Wu, 2015)
Metrograph, 7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts., 212-660-0312
Maysles Documentary Center, 343 Lenox Ave./Malcolm X Blvd., between 127th & 128th Sts., 212-537-6843
Opens Friday, June 23
“There’s something about a train that’s magic,” Richie Havens sang in a series of 1980s Amtrak commercials. Master documentarian Albert Maysles goes in search of that magic in his final film, In Transit. In 2014-15, Maysles, who passed away in 2015 at the age of eighty-eight, and his team took several trips on Amtrak’s Empire Builder, described as “America’s busiest long-distance train route,” which carries passengers between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest over the course of three days, following much of the route that explorers Lewis and Clark mapped out in the early nineteenth century. Maysles, Nelson Walker, David Usui, and Ben Wu focus handheld cameras on men, women, and children of all ages and ethnicities as they talk with other passengers about transitions they’re going through. One pregnant woman is past her due date, hoping she makes it to Minnesota to give birth with members of her family. She makes friends with a man who is photographing everywhere they go. A young man has suddenly quit his job to try to make a new life with his high school sweetheart in Indiana. A Native American talks about how he is riding the train to think about his relationship with his partner, which is on the ropes. An abused woman is returning from seeing her daughter for the first time in nearly half a century. Sometimes they’re speaking directly with Maysles, and other times the filmmakers are like flies on the wall, picking up snippets of conversations as the passengers share their hopes and dreams, along with their struggles and fears, in true cinéma vérité fashion. Everyone is open and free, including the conductors. “This is the only job I’ve ever wanted,” one of the trainmen explains.
Early on, a young woman says, “My friend CJ is always like, ‘How do you do it? How do you go to these places? How do you do these things? How do you just pack up and go? Aren’t you scared?’ Like, yeah, of course you’re scared. And it’s like at the same time you know what’s scarier? Staying exactly where you were, doing exactly what you always have done.” To which a young man adds, “Sometimes you just gotta do it. You know, what have you really to lose?” The Empire Builder has a viewing carriage, a car with a row of comfortable seats that face the window, offering passengers beautiful views of an America that not everyone sees, an America in which they are trying to start anew. It’s a calm, slow-moving film that doesn’t identify anyone by name, seventy-six minutes that share a narrow but candid look at who we are, and where we’re going. “I don’t really want to get off the train,” a single mother of four admits. It might not be one of Maysles’s best — his legacy consists of such seminal works as Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens, and What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A., made with his brother, David — but In Transit is a fitting end to his journey. “I wanted to make a film about trains, but really about the unity of humankind,” he said shortly before his death. In Transit opens June 23 at Metrograph on the Lower East Side and the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem; the 7:00 Metrograph screening on June 23 will be introduced by True and will be followed by a Q&A with True, Usui, and casting director Martha Wollner, while MDC will host Q&As with True and supervising producer Erika Dilday at the 7:00 show on June 24, with True at the 5:00 show on June 25 and the 7:30 show on June 27, and with True and Walker at the 7:30 show on June 29, with more to be announced.
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery
131 East Tenth St. between Second & Third Aves.
June 23 - July 1, free (advance RSVP recommended), 6:00 - 10:00 pm
Photographer David Michalek and choreographer Yvonne Rainer have teamed up on SlowDancing/TrioA, a free multimedia installation on view nightly at Danspace Project from June 23 through July 1 from 6:00 to 10:00. Ten years ago, Michalek first showed Slow Dancing, hyper-slow-motion videos of dancers and choreographers filmed for five seconds and stretched into ten-minute portraits. “I love dance. I love watching it. I love what dancers do, who they are, and what they stand for,” Michalek, who is married to Wendy Whelan, explains on his website about the series. Michalek has now turned his attention to Rainer’s iconic 1966 Trio A, which was part of the larger work The Mind Is a Muscle. “The dance has been understood as inaugurating a new field of practice that embraced laconic movements and ordinary bodies, and helped usher in postmodern, task-based dance,” Berkeley associate professor of art history Julia Bryan-Wilson wrote in October magazine in 2012. “In addition, Trio A has refigured what it means to talk about the medium — or mediums — of contemporary art.” For their collaboration, Michalek filmed forty-six dancers performing the approximately five-minute piece, with each participant getting seven seconds onscreen. The cast includes Siobhan Burke, Emily Coates, Robbie Cook, Jodi Melnick, Elliot Mercer, Richard Move, Wendy Perron, Stephen Petronio, Francisca Quintanilla, Macy Sullivan, David Thomson, Isabelle Vergara, Timothy Ward, Rainer, Whelan, and Raindears company member Pat Catterson, who worked with Rainer on the project and performed the piece at MoMA in 2009. There will be a trio of 6:30 conversations during the week-long run, with choreographer Hilary Easton on June 24, Lydia Bell on June 27, and Judy Hussie-Taylor on June 29, who all contributed to a print program guide as well. “Trio A is a dance that both does and does not want to perform, both does and does not want to be filmed,” Coates writes in the guide. “So it alters the expectations of the medium. Yvonne ‘Trio A-ifies’ David’s screens from within, forcing viewers, yet again, to reconsider their own desires in relation to an image. . . . Trio A questions the nature of performance itself.” Admission is free but advance RSVP is recommended here.
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St.
Wednesday - Monday through October 23, $17-$22
Alexander Calder, kineticism, and the Whitney have been inextricably linked since the institution acquired in May 1982 the Pennsylvania-born artist’s delightful “Calder’s Circus,” which, when on view, is always accompanied by a video showing the work in action. In addition, on rare occasions, it is activated live. The Whitney will be activating many of Calder’s other works in the new exhibition “Calder: Hypermobility,” set in motion at specific times to a specially commissioned sound walk by Jim O’Rourke. Activations, by motor or air, will take place multiple times each day (Monday to Thursday at 12 noon, 2:00, and 4:00; Friday at 12 noon, 2:00, 4:00, 7:30, 8:00, and 9:00; and Saturday and Sunday on the hour from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm). In addition, the Calder Foundation will activate the rarely exhibited “Object with Red Ball” on June 21 at 2:00, “Boomerangs” on June 28 at 2:00, “Tightrope” on July 9 at 4:00, “Goldfish Bowl” on July 12 at 2:00, and two untitled pieces on July 18 and 26 at 2:00, with more to come in August, September, and October. Below is a list of special performances by other artists during the run of the show, some of which require advance tickets.
Wednesday, July 19
Sunday, July 23
Christian Marclay performs Calder’s “Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere” (Calder’s first suspended mobile), with cellist Okkyung Lee, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Saturday, August 5
Sunday, August 6
Jack Quartet, music by Earle Brown, John Cage, Morton Feldman, and others, Hurst Family Galleries
Thursday, September 7
Sunday, September 10
Arto Lindsay, noisemakers and rattles, in conjunction with the exhibition “Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium,” Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Thursday, September 28
Jill Magid, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Friday, September 29
Sunday, October 1
Math Bass and Lauren Davis Fisher perform “Quiet Work in Session,” Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Thursday, October 5
Friday, October 6
C. Spencer Yeh, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Saturday, October 7
A screening of films commissioned by the Calder Foundation by artists Ephraim Asili, Rosa Barba, Lucy Raven, Agnès Varda, and others, followed by a conversation moderated by Victoria Brooks, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Friday, October 13
Sunday, October 15
Empire State Works in Progress, with artist Abigail DeVille and director Charlotte Brathwaite, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Friday, October 20
Sunday, October 22
Nora Schultz, Susan and John Hess Family Theater