Battles, both literal and metaphorical, have dominated André Téchiné’s last three films: Strayed (2003) saw Emmanuelle Béart and her children fleeing German planes in 1940; Changing Times (2004) featured Gerard Depardieu trying to win back romantically intransigent Catherine Deneuve at any cost. Now, in the frequently frustrating director’s The Witnesses, set in 1984–85, Adrien (Blanc), a gay physician spearheading AIDS research, sanctimoniously barks to Sarah (Béart), a straight female friend, “You’re in love and I’m at war.”
These overcooked pronouncements pepper Téchiné’s script, which he cowrote with two others, and are presented not as character indictments but rather as valorizations. Granted, Téchiné is recapturing the past. But to quote Susan Sontag in AIDS and Its Metaphors: “The body is not a battlefield.” (Unless, of course, you are an actress in her forties like Béart, who, heeding the call to look forever young, has augmented her lips to an extremely distracting dimension.) Within the film’s foursome—Sarah is a novelist who has a child with vice cop Mehdi (Bouajila, consistently fine), who begins a torrid affair with Manu (Libéreau), a country bumpkin who befriends Adrien while cruising in a park his first night in Paris—dyads will form, split and recoalesce, particularly after Adrien discovers KS lesions on Manu’s chest. Some of these alliances are deeply touching; others are pitched at deafening melodrama. Unintentionally, by casting Jacques Nolot in a bit part as the manager of a hotel-brothel, Téchiné reminds us that a far more honest, ravaging film about homosexuality, AIDS and love exists: Nolot’s Before I Forget, scheduled for stateside release later this year.
Cast and crew