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My Journey Through French Cinema (Voyage à travers le cinéma français) (NR)

Documentary 195 min. June 23, 2017
By Jordan Hoffman
The key word in the title is My. Bertrand Tavernier's three-hours-and-change film-essay is not a history lesson. It's an invitation to take a seat next to a renowned director as he shares the movies that mean something to him.

We begin in Tavernier's childhood, during WWII. In Lyon, his father, publisher René Tavernier, hides refugees in the family home. The doc concludes just as Tavernier is about to graduate from his position as Rome-Paris Films' press liaison to become a director in his own right. That journey is inexorably linked with the films he watched along the way.
Tavernier isn't interested in delineating historical context. There are other places to learn the ins and outs of the post-Vichy collaborator purges in the French film industry, or why Cinémathèque co-founder Henri Langlois got sacked in 1968. Tavernier would rather share anecdotes about actors, directors and composers, nipping around the edges of his subject.

This leads to his film's principal frustration, which takes about an hour to reveal itself: There seems to be no larger point. I'm not sure "Isn't this great?" passes muster as a thesis. Still, there are fascinating observations at every turn, some specific, such as examinations of how music in French movies differs from that in their Hollywood counterparts, or how even the most basic film grammar, the shot–reverse shot, can exude elegance when crafted by a master. The juicier second half represents Tavernier's years working as an assistant for the larger-than-life Jean-Pierre Melville. When someone with this level of insight and a vast trove of material wants to share, I can hardly fault anyone for wanting to sit at his feet and listen. And watch.
Bertrand Tavernier Bertrand Tavernier, Thierry Frémaux Bertrand Tavernier Frédéric Bourboulon Cohen Media Group

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