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.)
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.
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.
Last Tuesday, the Museum Mile Festival offered free admission to seven institutions along Fifth Ave. between 82nd and 105th Sts. This Tuesday, June 20, fifteen downtown organizations will open their doors for free. As part of the River to River Festival, which includes experimental dance, theater, music, and more through June 25, people are invited inside to see exhibitions and special programs as well as join walking tours. The participating organizations (with current exhibitions and special events) are the African Burial Ground National Monument (ranger presentations and screening of Our Time at Last), Federal Hall National Memorial (ranger tours, George Washington, Early American Music by Linda Russell), Fraunces Tavern Museum (“Dunsmore: Illustrating the American Revolutionary War,” “Lafayette,” live music by Rose Tree), the Museum of American Finance (“For the Love of Money: Blacks on US Currency,” hourly tours), the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust (“My Name Is…The Lost Children of Kloster Indersdorf,” “Eyewitness: Photographs by B. A. Van Sise,” 6:30 talk on Jewish communities in China), the China Institute (“Dreams of the Kings: A Jade Suit for Eternity, Treasures of the Han Dynasty from Xuzhou,” live music), the National Archives at New York City, the National Museum of the American Indian (“Akunnittinni: A Kinngait Family Portrait,” “Circle of Dance,” live performances by Martha Redbone), the National September 11 Memorial Museum, the NYC Municipal Archives (building tours with MA photographer Matthew Minor and MA commissioner), the 9/11 Tribute Center, Poets House (“Poetry Since 1912: Books, Issues, & Ephemera from the Poetry Foundation,” literary scavenger hunt), the Skyscraper Museum (“Ten and Taller, 1874-1900,” tour with founding director Carol Willis), and the South Street Seaport Museum (“Street of Ships: The Port and Its People,” Waterfront History Walking Tour, Bowne C. Stationers and Printers live demonstration).
Named the Outstanding Narrative Feature at the 2017 Sacramento Film Festival, Michael Clayton’s debut, The Dunning Man, begins with a rather strange shot of an American flag flying in the foreground as a plane heads toward the Chrysler Building, disappears behind it, then emerges on the other side. It’s impossible not to think about 9/11, but fortunately the rest of the film is a quirky little black comedy about the travails of poor Connor Ryan (James Carpinello), a man who hightails it out of New York, leaving his job and his rich girlfriend, and heads to Atlantic City, where he owns several apartments he’s leasing to tenants who don’t exactly pay him on time, if at all. “I hate thinking that the best I got coming for me is being Mr. Roper,” he tells his well-connected Uncle Bishop (Tom Kemp). But Connor doesn’t like accepting help from anyone, even when he’s trapped in some questionable situations. He’s kind of a schmegegge, a luckless loser who can’t catch a break. He’s rented one of his lo-rise condos to Gillian (Karen Howell), who lives with a pair of killer Chechen “warriors in the spirit of the wolf,” Ferdinand (Scott Oakley) and Ramos (Matthew Rimmer), who are members of a group that likes to have sex as furries. Meanwhile, he develops a friendship with his other tenant, Alice (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), a single mother with a violent boyfriend. Living above Alice is party animal Stryker Jones (Nicoye Banks), a rapper with a hit album who is lying relatively low as he struggles to make his follow-up record. Connor just wants a normal life, but he can’t stay out of trouble, refusing to sacrifice his principles even when his very existence is at stake.
The Dunning Man is based on the title short story in a highly acclaimed 2014 collection by Kevin Fortuna, who cowrote the screenplay with Clayton and serves as producer. (“Dunning” refers to the payment of a debt as well as a dull, gray-brown color and a son.) The film, which occasionally goes too far over the top, challenging credulity, belongs to Carpinello, who has starred in such Broadway musicals as Saturday Night Fever, Xanadu, and Rock of Ages, such off-Broadway shows as Incident at Vichy, and such television series as The Good Wife and The Mob Doctor. He has an innate charm as Connor, goofy and likable even when he does really stupid things. Cinematographer Petr Cikhart, who shoots The Amazing Race, keeps his camera moving as Connor faces disaster after disaster. Throughout the film, Clayton includes archival footage of Atlantic City’s illustrious, and not so illustrious, past, evoking Connor’s dreams and failures. “I do enjoy my life,” he declares at one point, but it sure doesn’t look like it. The heavily Irish soundtrack is outstanding, featuring music by Spider Stacy and the Pogues, the Ryan Brothers, and Brent Butler. And where else can you hear discussion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need? The Dunning Man is screening June 16 at 7:45 at Village East as part of the Soho International Film Festival and will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and members of the cast. The eighth annual festival continues through June 22 with such other films as Sloan Copeland’s Life Hack, Paul Jarrett’s Crazy Famous, Jill Salvino’s Between the Shades, and Marcia Kimton’s Bardo Blues.