On March 25th, Bertrand Tavernier, one of French cinema’s most prolific filmmakers, passed away at the age of 79. Tavernier left a vast and rich filmography, spanning a period of more than four decades and nearly 40 feature films. Characterized by a great diversity of genre and themes, his films are deeply rooted in film history, something which is testament to his practice as a film critic and historian but above all to his status as an ardent cinephile. Before turning to filmmaking himself, Tavernier worked as an assistent director on Jean-Pierre Melville's Léon Morin, prêtre (1961) and later as a publicist with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange (1971), famously calling the latter a genius yet an “imbecile” employer.
Meanwhile, after having directed two short films, he opted rather “to wait, to go on studying films, but to live and to be curious about life and politics” and to work as a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma in the 1960s before directing his first feature L'horloger de Saint-Paul in 1974. This film set off the collaboration with actor Philippe Noiret, which would continue into the 1990s, spanning two decades and nine films, including among others, Coup de torchon (1981) and La Vie et rien d'autre (1988), which won a BAFTA award in 1990. Other films by Tavernier include Round Midnight (1986), a remarkable foray into jazz culture starring Dexter Gordon and the sci-fi cult film La mort en direct (1980), starring Romy Schneider and Harvey Keitel.
Tavernier also published the seminal 50 ans de cinéma Américain (1991) with Jean-Pierre Coursodon, who also recently passed away, and Amis Américains (1993), a collection of interviews with American filmmakers and screenwriters. His love for, in this case French cinematic history is reflected in the recent documentary and television series titled My Journey Through French Cinema (2016) and Journeys Through French Cinema (2017), the latter comprising nine episodes. In this regard Tavernier also functioned as the president of the Institute Lumière in later life, with the aim to preserve film culture in France.
Excerpt from Coup de torchon (Bertrand Tavernier, 1981):
In memoriam by Martin Scorsese (EN/FR), Thierry Frémaux (FR) and Patrick Duynslaegher (NL).
Streaming services LaCinetek and The Criterion Channel have set up a Tavernier tribute program. Six of his films are also available on Netflix, including Coup de torchon (1981).
Samuel Bréan shares a selection of Tavernier's texts from Positif and Cahiers. For the last fifteen years, Tavernier also kept a personal film blog.
Images: (c) Etienne George, on the set of Capitaine Conan (1996); (c) Films de la Tour/Little Bear, on the set of Coup de torchon (1981).