The Witnesses

Film, Drama
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

With its three acts, ever-shifting relationships, a minor character who earns a living as a soprano and significant moments spent at the theatre, André Téchiné hints at an operatic approach in his ensemble drama set in mid-’80s Paris, yet the French director handles a tragic story without ever touching on hysteria, melodrama or sentimentality. We follow a cycle from summer to winter and summer again as Téchiné swiftly examines a turbulent year in the lives of three unlikely friends and an outsider who joins their close-knit group at the time that AIDS is emerging. There are striking and well-explored conflicts of class, sexuality and race, yet Téchiné’s characters are neither models of disharmony nor paragons of friendship; they are a believable and likeable group of friends struggling to handle the entry of a disease into their easy lives.

No character invites more or less sympathy than the other. Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart) is a new mother and writer of children’s books who’s married to Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), a harried cop from a less privileged background. He appears, at least on the surface, more sensible than his wife, who’s finding motherhood a trial. Trouble brews when Sarah invites her friend, Adrien (Michel Blanc), a fiftysomething, well-heeled doctor, to spend the weekend at her mother’s house on the coast, and he brings with him Manu (Johan Libéreau), a young lad from the Ariège who he met when cruising in the city. Relationships slip and slide, illness emerges and we are presented with a credible, pacy and moving snapshot of sexuality in the mid-’80s.

‘The Witnesses’ is a film about disease and death, but neither appear extraordinary here – instead Téchiné’s story is all too realistic. Nor is Téchiné much interested in the mechanics of dying and grieving; it’s the relationships that matter the most, and the characters never feel as if they’re occupying a treatise on the period. The occasional voiceover from Béart and a slightly mournful score from Philippe Sarde offer some sense of lament, but mostly this unfolds in the moment and is urgent and engaging.

By: Dave Calhoun



Release details

Release date:
Friday October 19 2007
115 mins

Cast and crew

André Téchiné
André Téchiné, Laurent Guyot, Viviane Zingg
Michel Blanc
Emmanuelle Béart
Sami Bouajila
Julie Depardieu
Johan Libéreau
Constance Dollé
Lorenzo Balducci
Alain Cauchi
Raphëline Goupilleau
Jacques Nolot
Xavier Beauvois
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