The world has lost a brilliant filmmaker, historian and champion, and I have lost a cherished friend, Bertrand Tavernier. He died at the age of 79, which is too young for a man I hoped would live forever. I’ve admired films like The watchmaker, Coup de Torchon, and A Sunday in the country long before we met.
In 1994 he faxed me a long letter. It was packed with news about his latest movies and books. He was familiar with mine Film guide and said, “Thank you for your comments on my films. I agree to the restrictions [and] criticism of Papa nostalgia. I missed [on] this movie. But I think you’re too strict for Life and nothing but, one of the films I’m most proud of. Not only did it receive many awards, but it also received a lovely letter from Joe Mankiewicz stating that it was one of the deepest and most intelligent scripts[s] he’s seen it for the past ten years. “I appreciated his equanimity, which is not always the case when directors read less than laudatory reviews.
As a jazz fan, I particularly liked it Around midnight A wonderful look at jazz life with veteran saxophonist Dexter Gordon, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his first appearance as an actor. Bertrand wrote: “Did you know that Dexter Gordon… received a message from Brando that he (Brando) felt for the first time in recent years that he had learned about acting? Dexter added after calling me, “So who needs an Oscar now?”
After working as a publicist for American directors in Paris years ago, he conducted many interviews and applied what he had learned to the two-volume work he wrote with Jean-Pierre Coursodon. Fifty years of American cinema and Yanks Americains. He asked why my guide didn’t list any known cases of someone working with no credit. I explained that I was opening a Pandora’s box that too often relied on hearsay.
“You are right,” he replied, “but some facts have been double-checked and are now absolutely certain: that Abraham Polonsky was a co-writer.” Chances against tomorrow, The [Dalton] Trumbo is the author of Cowboy, that most of Philip Yordan’s credits are dubious. Everything I printed in my book has been reviewed and reviewed by some American critics like Pat McGilligan or people who work on the film. For example, Joe Mankiewicz is the lead author (the only one, according to producer Sol Siegel) House of Strangersthat the dialogue of Five fingers was written by him. It sounds very Mankiewicz anyway. Burt Lancaster confirmed [for] me the most Ten great men Directed by Robert Parrish, who turned a serious screenplay [into] a funny comedy. For this he received special recognition from Harry Cohn. “
It also made me read novels that were adapted for the screen – often bad. “Have you seen this before Bugle in the afternoon? “He asked one day. I said I had and thought it was mediocre. He agreed, but then sang the praises of the book and its author, Ernest Haycox, and encouraged me to find the author’s as well Canyon Passage. I did as I was told and learned to rely on Bertrand’s choices. I now preach Haycox’s work to anyone who will listen. He’s not just a great Western writer; He’s a great writer, period. (Ernest Hemingway was a fan too.)
He loved making films and even worked with his son and daughter on films based on their life experiences. Many of his later films were barely shown in the US, but I liked everyone I saw, even the flawed feature they turned down. In the electric fog, its first feature made in America. He tried to work on films that sparked his enthusiasm, such as L.627, a grainy, satirical look at a police drug-busting unit in Paris, and Safe conduct, A passionate project about filmmaking during the French occupation based on real stories collected from veterans of the time. Even when he agreed to take the reins for a purely commercial film like Revenge of the Musketeers He made changes to the script and cast his son Nils in a supporting role. It gave him the opportunity to work with beautiful French star Sophie Marceau and his favorite actor, Philippe Noiret, who appeared in Bertrand’s debut film.
I will forever be grateful that the Telluride Film Festival brought him to America so many times. We rarely sat down, but instead pushed our conversations into the hustle and bustle of a hectic weekend. Just imagine how proud I was when he agreed to come on stage in the opera house to give me the 2002 silver medallion of the festival.
The last time I saw Bertrand was in 2017 with his wife Sarah on a trip to Los Angeles. Because she and my wife were there, we talked about things other than movies and enjoyed each other’s company. Sarah expressed a desire to move to California and Bertrand hoped to get an apprenticeship here. Despite its many supporters, it never came about. I brought him to my class Holy Lola, the story of a couple trying to adopt a Cambodian child that they wrote with their daughter Tiffany based on their own experiences. He spoke about the filmmaking process with great enthusiasm. He was like that. Everyone who got into its orbit appreciated the opportunity to sit at his feet and have him explain on any subject that came to mind.
His last project, Travels through French cinemahas just been released on Blu-ray by Cohen Media Group. When I saw the more than three-hour version of it one Sunday morning in Telluride, I worried I might fall asleep. This very personal documentary had the opposite effect, not just on me. I sat next to Ken Burns and when it was over we said together: “More!” I’m now looking forward to seeing all nine episodes of the miniseries because it will be like hanging out with Bertrand. My family and I feel blessed to have known him.