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.
FILM AND NOTHING BUT: BERTRAND TAVERNIER / TAVERNIER TREASURES
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
“As well as having his place in the world of cinema as a successful filmmaker, Bertrand Tavernier is a devoted film historian,” three-time Oscar-winning film editor Thelma Schoonmaker writes in the foreword to Stephen Hay’s Bertrand Tavernier: The Film-maker of Lyon. “A complete cinema enthusiast, he has been working diligently over the years to educate people about film history, touring festivals incessantly, talking to critics, students, and general audiences about his passion for the filmmakers who have gone before him.” The seventy-six-year-old auteur will be in New York this week for the opening of his latest film, My Journey through French Cinema, which opens June 23 at the Quad, to further spread his love of the movies. In conjunction with the new documentary, the Quad is presenting “Film & Nothing But: Bertrand Tavernier,” consisting of seventeen of his films, with Tavernier either introducing or participating in Q&As at nine screenings, including Beatrice, Coup de torchon, Let Joy Reign Supreme, ’Round Midnight, 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.
THE CLOCKMAKER (L’HORLOGER DE SAINT-PAUL) (Bertrand Tavernier, 1973)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Tuesday, June 20, 6:45 (followed by Tavernier Q&A)
Monday, June 26, 9:30
Wednesday, June 28, 7:00
“Film and Nothing But: Bertrand Tavernier” begins June 20 with Life and Nothing But, In the Electric Mist, and Tavernier’s first feature-length work, The Clockmaker. Based on Georges Simenon’s novel L’horloger de Saint-Paul, his debut is a quiet, introspective triumph from start to finish. Philippe Noiret stars as the title character, Michel Descombes, a widowed clockmaker who is told by a police inspector (Jean Rochefort) that his son, Antoine (Jacques Denis), has killed a man and is on the run with a woman named Liliane (Christine Pascal). A despondent Michel struggles to understand what led his son to commit such a crime, examining deep inside himself in the process. The many scenes that center on the clockmaker and the inspector discussing life in general terms are simply wonderful, except when the cop talks about the movies, which takes the audience out of the film, especially when they mention La Grande Bouffe, Noiret’s previous work. Otherwise, The Clockmaker is an absolute gem, with Tavernier’s subtle narrative style guiding Noiret (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, Le vieux fusil) to one of the greatest understated performances you’re ever likely to see. Winner of the Silver Bear at the 1974 Berlinale, The Clockmaker is screening at the Quad on June 20 at 6:45, June 26 at 9:30, and June 28 at 7:00; Tavernier will participate in a Q&A following the June 20 show.
MAX, MON AMOUR (Nagisa Ôshima, 1986)
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave. at Second St.
Friday, June 16, 7:00; Friday, June 23, 9:15; Sunday, June 25, 4:30
Series runs June 16-27
It’s rather hard to tell how much Japanese auteur Nagisa Ôshima is monkeying around with his very strange 1986 movie, Max, Mon Amour, a love story between an intelligent, beautiful woman and a chimpanzee. The director of such powerful films as Cruel Story of Youth; Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence; Taboo; and In the Realm of the Senses seems to have lost his own senses with this surprisingly straightforward, tame tale of bestiality, a collaboration with master cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who shot seminal works by Truffaut and Godard; screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who has written or cowritten nearly ninety films by such directors as Pierre Étaix (who plays the detective in Max), Luis Buñuel, Volker Schlöndorff, Philippe Garrel, and Miloš Forman; and special effects and makeup artist extraordinaire Rick Baker, the mastermind behind the 1976 King Kong, the Michael Jackson video Thriller, Ratboy, Hellboy, and An American Werewolf in London, among many others. Evoking Bedtime for Bonzo and Ed more than Planet of the Apes and Gorillas in the Mist, Max, Mon Amour is about a well-to-do English family living in Paris whose lives undergo a rather radical change when husband Peter Jones (Anthony Higgins) catches his elegant wife, Margaret (Charlotte Rampling), in bed with a chimp. Margaret insists that she and the chimp, Max, are madly in love and somehow convinces Peter to let her bring the sensitive yet dangerous beast home, which confuses their son, Nelson (Christopher Hovik), and causes their maid, Maria (Victoria Abril), to break out in ugly rashes. Peter, a diplomat, works for the queen of England, so as he prepares for a royal visit to Paris, he also has to deal with this new addition to his ever-more-dysfunctional family.
Throughout the film, it’s almost impossible to figure out when Ôshima is being serious, when he is being ironic, when he is trying to make a metaphorical point about evolution, or when he is commenting on the state of contemporary aristocratic European society. When Margaret puts on a fur coat, is that a reference to her hypocrisy? Is her affair with a zoo animal being directly compared to Peter’s dalliance with his assistant Camille (Diana Quick)? Even better, is Ôshima relating Max to Her Royal Highness? We are all mammals, after all. Or are Ôshima and Carrière merely riffing on Buñuel’s 1972 surrealist classic The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which Carrière cowrote? Perhaps Max, Mon Amour is about all of that, or maybe none of it, as Ôshima lays it all out very plainly, as if it is not a completely crazy thing that a woman can have an affair with a chimp and have him become part of the family. Regardless, the film is just plain silly, although it looks pretty great, particularly Rampling wearing gorgeous outfits and a Princess Di do and Quick in hysterically hideous haute couture gone terribly wrong. Meanwhile, Michel Portal’s score mines Laurie Anderson territory. You can decide for yourself whether Max, Mon Amour is a misunderstood masterpiece or an absurd piece of trifle when it kicks off the Anthology Film Archives series “Simian Vérité” on June 16 at 7:00, with repeat screenings June 23 at 9:15 and June 25 at 4:30. The series, guest programmed by Steve Macfarlane of Slant magazine, consists of eleven works that explore “human-primate coexistence,” including George Romero’s Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Terror, Howard Hawks’s Monkey Business, Marco Ferreri’s Bye Bye Monkey, Inoshiro Honda’s King Kong Escapes, and Frederick Wiseman’s Primate.