By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
It’s not a question of pace, he replied, it‘s a question of getting to know the characters. In French movies, he said, ”Characters are more important than the plot. They try to escape the dictatorship of the plot.“ Furthermore, the kinds of films he and other French directors were trying to make were based on ”questioning the characters and not on imposing the characters . . . The American audience loves to have things solved. When L.627 starts, it’s like we‘re arriving by accident in the life of a group of cops. There is no special drama. And at the end of the film, nothing is solved, nothing. No solution in the problem of the couple, no solution in the problem of the drugs. To base the dramaturgy of a film on the principle of resolution makes things very simple, because you create a drama at the beginning and then you solve it. The life of the group in L.627 doesn’t obey the principle of resolution, because the problem in their life is that they don‘t solve anything.“
For Tavernier, there is one ”very efficient and simplistic rule“ that dominates most American cinema -- namely, that of one hero against the world. ”When you have that, everything is dramatized very easily. In Dead Poets Society, you have one guy, Robin Williams, against the entire establishment. Or it can be a cop against all the rotten cops -- that makes everything for an audience very clear. And it looks faster because it’s very, very clear!“
Tavernier fell upon this overriding theme, or stratagem -- what he calls ”this apology for the individual hero“ -- while working on his books about American cinema. Since discovering it, he has deliberately tilted his films in the opposite direction, by telling stories about people who achieve their goals, to the extent that they do so, only when they receive help from others. ”This is my John Ford influence,“ Tavernier said. ”John Ford was a champion for that. He was a champion of the group against the individual. It‘s always the family, always the cavalry, as opposed to the Hawksian hero, who is the lonely adventurer. John Wayne in Rio Bravo turns down the help of the people of the city who want to help him. Henry Fonda, in My Darling Clementine, accepts it, because he knows that maybe he is not good enough. I found in these two attitudes an enormous difference. And maybe because Ford was Irish, a European,3 he was like that. I feel that European cinema is more based on the collectivity, on the group, on civilization, and American cinema -- and there have been some exceptions, like Huston and Ford and all the foreign directors like Preminger and Lang -- has always been the champion of the lone wolf against the rest of the world.“
That last statement took on a decidedly political cast when the discussion turned, as it inevitably did, from the question of American film to the question of the American film industry -- a lone wolf not just against the world but, in certain French eyes at least, intent on devouring it. French cinema may be too protected, but as Zonca put it, ”If it was not protected, it would disappear.“ In any case, both Tavernier and Desplechin were quick to point out that France was not only protecting its own cinema. Either through direct government funding or (to a much greater extent) through private companies like the television station Canal +, it was also protecting world cinema. For them, this was a key point. Foreign, non-English filmmakers like Paul Verhoeven or Lasse Hallstrom are welcome to make films in Hollywood, provided their films are commercially viable, are made in English and star American actors. But when a foreign film director receives funding from the French, it’s understood that the film can be made in the director‘s own language, whether that language be English, Russian or Farsi. Furthermore, the director retains creative control -- a fact attested to by Mary Sweeney, David Lynch’s producereditor (and companion). By phone in L.A., she said that Lynch had been receiving French financing for the last 10 years. ”The most important thing for David is that he retains creative control, and there‘s been no attempt by the French financiers to interfere with that,“ she said. ”Once they approve the budget, they give us the money and we give them the film. Obviously, if we didn’t come in under budget that might not continue, but it‘s been a nice arrangement. On The Straight Story, there were six or seven American companies competing for financing, but based on his experience of having total creative control, David went with the French.“
Contrast that with Tavernier’s experience after Miramax purchased the American rights to his film D‘Artagnan’s Daughter: Harvey Weinstein demanded cuts, Tavernier refused, and as a result the film went straight to video under the tacky title Revenge of the Musketeers. It could be a argued that Tavernier‘s film needed cutting, but then, the same could be said of Lost Highway. The difference is, Lynch was allowed to achieve his vision, and (in America at least) Tavernier wasn’t.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!