Bertrand Tavernier, 79, French Director With Wide Appeal, Dies


Bertrand Tavernier, a French director best known in the US for “Round Midnight,” the 1986 film that earned Dexter Gordon an Oscar nomination for his performance as a New York jazz musician, for his life and career in Paris to get going. died on Thursday in Sainte-Maxime in south-eastern France. He was 79 years old.

The Lumiere Institute, a film organization in Lyon, of which he was president, posted news of his death on Facebook. The cause was not given.

Mr. Tavernier made around 30 films and documentaries and was regularly represented at the film festival. In 1984 he won the Cannes Best Director award for “A Sunday in the Country”, which Roger Ebert described as “a graceful and delicate story about the hidden” currents in a family “under the direction of an aging painter who lived outside Paris lives.

Mr. Tavernier had worked primarily as a film critic and publicist until he directed his first feature film “The Clockmaker of St. Paul” in 1974, the story of a man whose son is accused of murder. The film, more a character study than a crime drama, quickly established it in France and received praise overseas.

“‘The Clockmaker’ is an extraordinary film,” wrote Mr. Ebert, “all the more so because it tries to show us the very complex workings of the human personality and to do so with grace, a little humor and a lot of style.” . ”

The French actor Philippe Noiret played the father in this film. The two worked together often, and reunited in 1976 in another murderer story, “The Judge and the Assassin,” with Mr. Noiret playing the judge. The cast also included Isabelle Huppert, who would appear in other Tavernier films.

Mr. Tavernier soon worked with international casts. In Death Watch, a science fiction thriller from 1980, Harvey Keitel was seen as a television reporter whose eye was replaced by a camera so that he could see the last days of a woman – played by Romy Schneider – at a terminal Seems to have been able to secretly film disease.

Round Midnight featured a cast full of musicians – not just Mr. Gordon, a noted saxophonist, but Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, and others, including Herbie Hancock, who won an Oscar for his original score.

“Mr. Tavernier and David Rayfiel’s script is rich and laid-back, with a style that perfectly suits that of the musician,” wrote Janet Maslin in the New York Times. “Part of the conversation may be improvised, but nothing sounds improvised, but nothing sounds forced, and the film effortlessly remains idiosyncratic the whole way.”

Bertrand Tavernier was born on April 25, 1941 in Lyon to René and Ginette Tavernier. His father was a well-known writer and poet. In a 1990 interview with The Times, Mr. Tavernier described an isolated childhood.

“My childhood was marked by loneliness because my parents didn’t get along well,” he said. “And it comes out in every movie. I practically never had a couple in my films. “

He mentioned the impact of his hometown.

“It’s a very mysterious city,” he said. “My father always said that in Lyon you learn that you can never lie, but always disperse, and that’s part of my films. The characters are often weird in their relationships. Then there will be brief moments when they reveal themselves. “

He was interested in film from a young age. His early jobs in the film business included press rep for Georges de Beauregard, a well-known French New Wave producer. He also wrote on films for Les Cahiers du Cinéma and other publications, and continued to write throughout his career – essays, books, and more. As a film historian, he was known for advocating for films, directors, and screenwriters who had been treated unkindly by others.

In the foreword to Stephen Hay’s 2001 biography “Bertrand Tavernier: The Filmmaker of Lyon”, Thelma Schoonmaker, noted film editor and widow of director Michael Powell, wrote Mr. Tavernier reviving the reputation of Mr. Powell’s “peeping” to Tom, “the Condemned when it was published in 1960, but is now highly regarded by many cinephiles.

“Bertrand’s desire to correct the injustices of cinema history is directly related to the issues of justice that permeate his own films,” she wrote.

Thierry Frémaux, director of the Cannes Festival and the Lumière Institute, said Mr Tavernier worked tirelessly for him.

“Bertrand Tavernier created the work we know, but he also created something else: to be at the service of the history of cinema of all cinemas,” said Frémaux via email. “He wrote books, he edited other people’s books, he conducted a tremendous amount of film interviews, tributes to everyone he admired, film presentations.”

“I’m not sure there are other examples in art history of a creator so devoted to the work of others,” he added.

Mr. Tavernier’s own films sometimes tell personal stories amidst profound moments in history. “Life and Nothing But” (1989) from 1920 had the search for hundreds of thousands of French soldiers in the background who were still missing during World War I. “Safe Conduct” (2002) was about French filmmakers who worked during World War I and the German occupation in World War II.

But Mr. Tavernier was not interested in historical spectacle for his own sake.

“Often people come up to me and say you should make a film about the French resistance, but I say this is not an issue, this is vague,” he told Variety in 2019. “Tell me about a character who was one of the first members of the resistance and those who did things that people said later in 1945 should be judged as crimes. Then I have a character and an emotion to deal with. “

His survivors include his wife Sarah and two children, Nils and Tiffany Tavernier.

Mr. Tavernier has put humor into his films, even a serious one like “Life and Nothing But” which had a scene – with some basis in reality, he said – in which a distraught army captain must quickly find an “unknown soldier” . be placed under the Arc de Triomphe.

“The rush to find the unknown soldier is perfectly true, although we had to guess how it happened,” said Mr. Tavernier. “Imagine: How do you find a body that cannot be identified and yet is certain that it is French?”

Aurelien Breeden contributed to reporting from Paris.



Robert Dunfee