The day after Bertrand Tavernier’s burial, Thierry Frémaux, an old friend of the late filmmaker who died on March 25, wrote a long post on March 31, soberly titled “Bertrand”. A magnificent tribute to the one who was the president of the Institut Lumière. And, beyond that, the very moving portrait of a “gentle man, with generous humanism and exemplary intransigence”.
We publish the entire text here:
Bertrand Tavernier was buried yesterday in Sainte-Maxime after a private ceremony. He chose to leave at the beginning of spring so that the beautiful sunny days that arrive help us to survive. “Bertrand was buried yesterday” : I have trouble getting used to this sentence, this idea, this sadness.
I met Bertrand Tavernier in Lyon at the Château Lumière when he announced that he would be the first President of the nascent Institut Lumière. It was the time of Coup de torchon, an extraordinary film, 2 million admissions, numerous Césars. His prestige was at the zenith.
I had always admired him, I had become a cinephile with the French cinema of the seventies, of which he was a thunderous and singular voice. As I was studying the Lyon years of the journal Positif for a master’s thesis in History at Lyon 2, I took the opportunity to ask him about his companionship with the journal. It was above all a pretext to speak with him.
When I offered him my services to be a volunteer in the future institution, he told me: “We are very alone. Welcome!” Then, dazzled, I saw The Exit of the Light Factories. There are days in a lifetime that matter more than others. It was in June 1982. I never left the rue du Premier-Film.
We quickly became friends. After spending a few days on the set of La Vie and nothing else, I didn’t want to get away from him. We worked on American Friends, his book about his meetings with Hollywood directors and screenwriters he had known before he became a director.
When I was appointed director of the Institut Lumière in 1990, I only asked Bertrand, who was a man full of doubts: “Stay President by being yourself, that’s how we need you”. He has always been there, from the first days to the last hours, supporting our struggles, culture and commitment over the shoulder. When I presented it, I said: “President forever and ever.” He insisted: “We must also think about the future!” But no : “Filmmaker, film buff and Lyonnais”, it was perfect.
No one will forget the filmmaker, his ease in moving from one setting to another, from one subject to another (like his friend Michael Powell), his use of the voiceover (often his own), of the scope format, of the camera on the shoulder, the way he fought for each of his projects, of never having made a film for money. His filmography is impeccable. We have seen his films a lot in recent days, French televisions have been admirably responsive. Result: time improves its work, it will do so again.
For his first film, L’Horloger de Saint-Paul, Philippe Noiret feared a referential overflow, a deluge of tributes and quotes. He was quickly reassured by the mastery of the young director. When he was a filmmaker, Bertrand was no longer a film buff at all. He was a filmmaker. Attentive at every stage of creation, up to the attention paid to music, like all great directors, with beautiful collaborations: Philippe Sarde, Antoine Duhamel, Marco Beltrami, Bruno Coulais and the jazzmen Herbie Hancock, Louis Sclavis, Henri Texier. He loved everything about a movie. On the set, he approached the actors and spoke to them discreetly. Bertrand is someone who pampered others, he enveloped them with his great body.
Everyone will remember someone who saw it, heard it all, read it all. Curiosity brandished as one of the fine arts and its insatiable gluttony: erudition and cinephilia as weapons of war – and of peace. Bertrand carried you away in a torrent of affection for artists and passion for works of the mind.
He leaves books, articles, theatrical interventions, DVD bonuses. His commitment is also that, like that of his friend Scorsese. The Institut Lumière also allowed him to structure all his desires, he was his backbone. He said : “From the rue du Premier-Film, you can dream of anything!”. The birth of the Lumière festival drew cries of joy from him: “The history of cinema honored where it began, we can not do better!” He was so happy to welcome Francis Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Frances McDormand, Quentin Tarantino, Catherine Deneuve, Milos Forman, Pedro Almodovar, the Dardenne brothers or even Jane Fonda. When I started out, I attracted Wim Wenders, Elia Kazan or Joseph Mankiewicz to Lyon, he was impressed. We all loved to wow Bertrand.
“If everyone had as high a conscience as theirs, we would certainly be in a better world” someone wrote in one of the thousands of messages we have received since last Thursday.
Bertrand was popular, it’s crazy how people liked him, how they looked for his company. He was a gentle man, with generous humanism and exemplary intransigence. In the 90s, a Minister reproached him for not knowing the “ground”. He made a film of it, On the other side of the ring road. With his son Nils, he went there, in the field, it was easy, he always went there. He was going everywhere. And he brought back food, local alcohol, products, foie gras, jam.
Will also remain, and that contrasted with the political conscience which was fundamental in him, the memory of someone who found in all circumstances the occasion to laugh. You were never bored, he had the ability to magnetize the fantasies of existence, like his friend Jean Aurenche. Fantasies that he made even more funny by telling them in turn, like this person, it must have fallen on him, who one day questioned him about the advisability of taking comedy lessons by correspondence. Bertrand’s head!
Together we have traveled the world. Abroad, he was adored, he was considered to be extraordinarily French. When I arrived at the Cannes Film Festival, I already knew a lot of journalists, because Bertrand had presented them all to me in our many trips, and especially in the United States. There I know Todd McCarthy, Kenneth Thuran, Dave Kehr, Lisa Nesselson are sad, like Julie Huntsinger, Tom Luddy and the whole Telluride festival team, like Richard Peña and Kent Jones at the Lincoln Center team .
At the news of his disappearance, many friends expressed their emotion: Quentin Tarantino, Jane Campion, Walter Hill, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Thelma Schoonmaker, Phil Kaufmann or Irwin Winkler who had produced Autour de Minuit. The text of Martin Scorsese is overwhelming, that of Harvey Keitel, which we will make public, too. Like letters from Russel Banks or James Lee Burke. All these messages from France (and I regret not being able to list them), from the whole world (again Nanni Moretti, this morning) clearly tell the mark that Bertrand Tavernier is going to leave. It is deep, it is beautiful, it will be seen from afar and no ocean in the world will ever be able to cover it.
How to cite all the films he liked? I take two: A matter of life and death of Michael powell and Emeric Pressburger or The Grapes of Wrath by John Ford, because they’re programmatic titles! But tomorrow it would be two more and the day after tomorrow, still more. About him, I would cite two little-known films, Des enfants gâtés (1977) in which Michel Piccoli’s character resembles the Bertrand of the time, his wanderings through the night talking about cinema with Christine Pascal; and Live Death (1980) with Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, Max von Sydow and Harry Dean Stanton, breathtaking cast, film heralding the arrival of the obscenity of images – in 1980!
And i would quote Around midnight, which has become rare. For jazz (a music that Bertrand made me know better), because it was filmed for a good part in Lyon, that Martin Scorsese plays an electric role there and because it is a glorious film at the end of life, where a man remembers what he lived. One of the books Bertrand read at Sainte-Maxime was the biography of Dexter Gordon, written by his wife Maxine, which has just been published in France. One of the last music he listened to the day before was from the movie, his wife Sarah told me: “It soothed him, it made him happy, it showed”. Lady Bertrand has undoubtedly already found the great Dexter, he must be happy. I saw again Around midnight last night, I would like to see him again tonight. And always see him again.
His last film was Voyage through French Cinema, the definitive achievement, with American Friends, to evoke the two cinemas he liked the most. “Oh no! We must also talk about Italian cinema, Japanese cinema, English cinema!” he protests instantly, leaning over my shoulder, as I know he often will be.
It prevents. A film-sum of several hours to express his gratitude to those who have made French cinema, isn’t it the perfect gesture to close the existence of a filmmaker-cinephile, that of a Lyonnais who achieves his ultimate work in starting with Lyon-Montchat where he grew up and ending in Lyon-Monplaisir… rue du Premier-Film.
I always felt that Bertrand’s presence by my side protected me – I won’t be the only one to say that. He was there. Beyond great moments of affection that in Lyon, he did not show by twisting his arms, he pushed you to surpass yourself. There was never the beginning of a disagreement between us, the slightest argument. With a man like him by your side, you felt irresistible. He did not play the substitute father, never the President-Patron. For forty years, we had spoken to each other every week, sometimes every day. His friendship will be remembered as a great gift, a privilege that is rarely given to anyone in an existence. This privilege, I had it.
We are right to lead the lives we lead but sometimes it hurts. Since his disappearance, the emotion is gigantic, sadness is everywhere. A giant is gone, a great oak tree that has soared to the sky. When some men die, the saying goes, it’s like a burning library. With Bertrand, it’s several film libraries that burn, it’s a lot of things that will disappear. But with him, many things will be reborn because even when he is dead, he will take matters into his own hands. The roadmap is demanding.
In addition to two wonderful children who in turn became artists, Nils and Tiffany, he left a unique, infinite legacy. A promising legacy because, like him, he will be full of laughter, raised fists and great ambitions.
In Death Live, Romy Schneider, who knows she is doomed, tells Harvey Keitel: “Take me to the sea.” Sarah took Bertrand to the sea, to the Saint-Maxime of his youth, to the shores of this Mediterranean that he loved, in these childhood paths that he will have walked one last time.
And we heard him, he did it singing.