As a critic and a director, Bertrand Tavernier espouses a vision of cinema which exists in service of the narrative and the characters. His films, haunted by the theme of lineage, echo his love of passing on knowledge.
Updated on 29/05/2019
Is this the result of an adolescence spent studying at a strict boarding school? Or the looming memory of a father who was a poet, member of the Resistance and friend of Aragon? Regardless, the fact remains that since his first film, The Clockmaker of Saint Paul (“L’Horloger de Saint-Paul”) (1974), Bertrand Tavernier's cinema has continually interrogated father-son relationships and the legitimacy of institutions.
A socially-engaged filmmaker committed to fighting all forms of injustice, Tavernier has worked in many genres, from dystopia (Death Watch (“La Mort en direct”), 1980) to historical fiction (Captain Conan (“Capitaine Conan”), 1996).
President of the Institut Lumière in Lyon since its creation in 1982, he has also been a staunch defender of heritage film, as evidenced in Journey through French Cinema (“Voyage à travers le cinéma français”), a scholarly documentary produced in 2016.
Reading Bertrand Tavernier's critical work also allows us to better understand his film oeuvre. In the 1950s, in contrast to the popular opinion of the time, the French filmmaker ardently defended the Brit Michael Powell and the Frenchman Jean Devaivre. Through them, he asserted a vision of mis en scène as an art in service of narrative. Close to a kind of neoclassicism in his early years, he drew inspiration from literature, but also from society, which he examined with a perceptive gaze. Thus, with L.627 (1992), he immersed himself in reality with a stripped-back style.
This tension between realism and dramaturgy finds its most perfect expression in Fresh Bait (“L’Appât”) (1995), an unvarnished account of an unusual tale, for which he was awarded the Golden Bear in Berlin.
Bertrand Tavernier has never hidden his fascination with American cinema and literature. This relationship culminated in 2009 with his production of a film in the United States, shot in English: In the Electric Mist (2009).
The embodiment of the scholarly filmmaker, sometimes considered the French counterpart to Martin Scorsese – his Voyage through French cinema is a nod to A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Cinema released in 1995 – he remains one of the best-known French filmmakers abroad.
Awarded twice in Berlin, Bertrand Tavernier is part of the very exclusive group of French filmmakers who have been granted a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Venice. Before him, only Robert Bresson, Éric Rohmer and Alain Resnais had received this distinction.
Bertrand Tavernier assists Jean-Pierre Melville during the filming of Léon Morin, Priest (“Léon Morin, prêtre").
His first film, The Clockmaker of Saint Paul, receives immediate praise and wins two awards: The Louis-Delluc Prize and the Silver Bear in Berlin.
Alongside Thierry Frémaux and Bernard Chardère, Bertrand Tavernier founds the Institut Lumière in Lyon, of which he is also President.
In the Electric Mist allows him to realise an old dream: Filming in the United States. However, the film will end up being distributed in two different versions following a disagreement with the producer, Michael Fitzgerald.
The jury of the Venice International Film Festival awards him a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.
Four films by Bertrand Tavernier are distributed internationally by the Institut français: Life and Nothing But (“La Vie et rien d'autre”, 1989), Captain Conan (“Capitaine Conan”, 1996), The French Minister (“Quai d'Orsay”, 2013), My Journey Through French Cinema (“Voyage à travers le cinéma français”, 2015).
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