Now in his late seventies, the filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier has been immersed in French cinema for almost his entire life, first as a wide-eyed boy in Lyon, then as a young critic and assistant to Jean-Pierre Melville, and later as a director himself. In this insightful and affable three-hour-plus doc, Tavernier leads us through the films that shaped him up to the point he stepped behind the camera himself. It’s packed with enticing clips, sharp observations and welcome archive interviews with French cinema titans like Jean Renoir and Jean Gabin.
Conversational and friendly, Tavernier spends the most time with films of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, musing largely on directors Melville, Renoir, Jacques Becker and Marcel Carné, and later two composers: Joseph Kosma and Maurice Jaubert. This is Tavernier’s own film story so don’t expect a linear, full history of the cinema of the time. However, it’s anything but dry, as the film swoons with passion for Gallic films and filmmaking.
It also avoids fawning: Tavernier confronts Renoir’s questionable wartime behaviour and is quick to call out his heroes’ lesser films. Your own to-watch list will be bulging by the end.