Film World Pays Tribute to Bertrand Tavernier, the ‘Spirit of Cinema’

Elsa Keslassy
·6-min read

The news of beloved and revered French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier’s death has struck a chord in France and around the world with a flurry of cinephiles, filmmakers, critics, industry figures and talents remembering him on social media on Thursday.

Aside from his prolific career as filmmaker, Tavernier (“Round Midnight,” “Coup de Torchon,” “A Sunday in the Country”), was also a driving force behind the Institut Lumiere and its annual heritage film festival in Lyon which he ran alongside Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux. Tavernier brought tremendous support to film preservation and livened up the cultural life of Lyon, his hometown, through his dedicated work at the Institut Lumiere.

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“We would have soon celebrated our 40 years of friendship and common work, since he reached out a helping hand when I was a student,” Fremaux told Variety. “And we had many adventures together, including the Lumiere festival and his last documentary [‘Journey Through French Cinema’]. He was a great cinephile, and a great human being,” said Fremaux.

Tavernier was known for his insatiable curiosity, passion, lifelong enthusiasm for sharing ideas and kindness.

The legendary filmmaker was also passionate about America and wrote several books about U.S. films. He had just finished the book “100 Years of American Cinema” which will come out in the fall. He was also working on a film adaptation of a book by Russel Banks.

Amazon Studios’ Scott Foundas, a former Variety critic, said Tavernier “embodied the spirit of cinema as robustly as anyone ever has, and who leaves behind a filmography rich in humanistic masterworks.”

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Canal Plus Group’s CEO Maxime Saada described Tavernier as a “great filmmaker” who was “so cultured, curious, engaged, generous,” and said his passing was a “massive shock for the cinema” world.

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Jean Labadie, the founder of the French distribution company Le Pacte who collaborated with Tavernier on several films including “L’Appat,” said his death was “so sad, so tragic.”

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British filmmaker Mark Cousins described Tavernier as a “mighty keeper of the flame of cinema.”

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Taylor Hackford, former president of the Directors Guild of America who now serves as a board member of the Franco-American Cultural Fund, said in a statement, “We at the DGA mourn the loss of Bertrand Tavernier, a great director and a great friend of directors. Our Guild’s strong bond with Bertrand dates back four decades as we joined together in our advocacy of the filmmakers’ right to be in control of the integrity of their work, beginning with our shared fight against the colorization of black and white films. I had a running dialogue with Bertrand for many years – he knew as much about cinema as anyone I’ve ever known. My two favorite Tavernier films are: ‘Coup de Torchon,’ the best adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel EVER, and ‘Capitaine Conan,’ a brilliant and totally unique treatment of World War I. As a man, Bertrand was funny and caustic at the same time – he lived his passion.”

Michael Mann, a DGA National Board alternate and Franco-American Cultural Fund board member wrote, “The loss of Bertrand Tavernier is a loss for cinema, and for directors around the world. More than a legendary French filmmaker, more than a champion of cinema, he quite literally wrote the book on Hollywood film in France with his treasured ’30 ans de cinéma Américain.’ A great raconteur, his wit and charm filled many evenings over the years. We will forever be grateful for having had the privilege to have known him.”

The Guild recognized Tavernier in 2004 with a DGA Honor.

The Venice Film Festival’s artistic director Alberto Barbera also paid homage to Tavernier, who received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the festival in 2015.

“In Bertrand Tavernier we have lost one of the most prestigious and influential figures in the French film culture of the second half of the twentieth century. French cinephiles have lost one of their symbols, the cinema of one of their most original and esteemed authors. With his fascinating articles and inimitable books, he helped to cement our love for American cinema. With dedication and foresight, he chaired the Institut Lumière in Lyon, fostering its growth into one of the most authoritative institutions on the international scene. The legacy of films that he has left us are a fascinating, eclectic and non-conformist body of work that we will never forget. We will miss his intelligence, his lucid and passionate critical vision, his absolute dedication to the cause of cinema. And naturally, the films he might have made, blending entertainment with the political and social themes that he was so passionate about. For all of this, we will be forever grateful”.

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