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.
Throughout 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.