In A Journey Through French Cinema, legendary French director Bertrand Tavernier (‘Round Midnight, A Sunday in the Country, Life and Nothing But) takes us into a voyage of discovery through his native France’s rich cinematic history and talks candidly about the directors, actors and screenwriters who helped shape his life as a filmmaker and cinephile. At three hours long and covering decades of French cinema, the documentary doesn’t just content itself with highlighting the obvious New-Wave stars such as Truffaut, Goddard or Rohmer, but takes us all the way back to days of Jaques Becker, Jean Renoir and Jean Gabin. Tavernier also speaks candidly and with great tenderness and respect about his own cinematic hero, Jean-Pierre Melville (Bob le Flambeur, Le Doulos, Le Samouraï), a man whom he considers to be one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century. 

Modelled, one suspects, after Martin Scorsese’s own made for TV film documentaries of late, A Journey Through French Cinema is perhaps one of the most comprehensive anthologies of French cinema ever made. Tavernier, a respected director in his own rights, speaks about his war-time experiences as a child suffering from a debilitating illness, who saw in films a  way to escape from the hardship experienced by him and his family during the German occupation. His earliest memories are those of witnessing for the first time the films of Jaques Becker (Le Trou, The Lovers of Montparnasse), and in later years experiencing first hand the constant politically charged arguments between those who wrote for Les Cahiers Du Cinema, the ubiquitous magazine founded by Andre Bazin, and their rivals at Positif, a magazine founded by Bernard Chardere.

Journey Through French CinemaThroughout the film, Tavernier lets his heroes speak for themselves, from acting legend Jean Gabin who gave countless in-depth interviews during his career, to Marcel Carné and Jean Renoir’s involvement in turning the medium of film into an art-form. Tavernier also speaks honestly about Jean Renoir’s 1930s experience as a director and his pivotal role in “Le Front Populaire” a left wing movement which saw artists and politicians work together to protect Europe from the dangers of fascism.

While A Journey Through French Cinema is unable to cover every single decade, and Dod knows it tries, the film will ignite in those who love French cinema a new passion for its heroes and villains. Tavernier’s ability to jump from one subject to another with great ease, is clearly one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject. He shares his passion with huge delight as tenderness towards those who are no longer with us. As a critic turned filmmaker, the director acts almost as a link between his cinematic heroes and the rest of us. A genuinely thrilling documentary which is sure to find its audience when and if it is released for TV consumption, however at three hours long, only those who are truly passionate about the subject would want to sit through all of it in one go.  

Journey Through French Cinema is released on September 15th.

Journey Through French Cinema
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Linda Marric is a senior film critic and the newly appointed Reviews Editor for HeyUGuys. She has written extensively about film and TV over the last decade. After graduating with a degree in Film Studies from King's College London, she has worked in post-production on a number of film projects and other film related roles. She has a huge passion for intelligent Scifi movies and is never put off by the prospect of a romantic comedy. Favourite movie: Brazil.