A Journey Through French Cinema (5 stars)

A Journey Through French Cinema

Enthralling, informative and deeply personal documentary from the celebrated filmmaker

Released elsewhere as 'My Journey Through French Cinema', as that title suggests, Bertrand Tavernier's three-hour documentary is a personal, nay autobiographical account of French cinema, charting the films and filmmakers that made him fall in love with the medium – to the point where he would become a director himself. So rather than an A-Z of one of the world's largest film industries, it's a subjective, at times idiosyncratic selection, treated to enthusiastic and insightful analysis. The result is a film lover's feast: informative, enthralling and inspiring.

Since 1974's The Watchmaker of St Paul, Tavernier has been one of France's most consistent and chameleon-like filmmakers. He's made a swashbuckler (D'Artagnan's Daughter), a wartime resistance drama (Safe Conduct), science fiction (Death Watch) and a policier (L.627), among many others. He's also a keen film conservationist, so, like Scorsese – who gave us A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies – he's the perfect person to celebrate his country's cinema.

The approach is roughly chronological, tied to important staging posts in Tavernier's cinephile development – from film buff to critic and press agent, ending just before his own filmmaking begins. Directors under his microscope include Jacques Becker, Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Sautet. But he also adds a beautiful homage to the actor Jean Gabin, a surprising one to the laidback king of the crime flick, Eddie Constantine, and pays tribute to screen composers close to his heart.

The hundreds of film clips are accompanied by archive interviews, Tavernier's straight-to-camera musings and his voiceover, which combines biography, anecdote and analysis. At no point is this shameless fandom; failings are fulsomely aired, both in the work and in life, whether it be Renoir's anti-Semitism or Melville's appalling way with actors. That said, Tavernier's passion is contagious. And it leaves you with a keen desire to host your own French film retrospective, tout suite.

Limited release from Fri 15 Sep.

A Journey Through French Cinema

  • 5 stars
  • 2016
  • France
  • 3h 21min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Bertrand Tavernier
  • Cast: Bertrand Tavernier
  • UK release: 15 September 2017

A personal account of French cinema by one of France’s most consistent and chameleon-like filmmakers. Tavernier gives an account of his own journey to filmmaking as well as celebrating other great talents, and doesn’t shy away from the failings of directors such as Renoir and Melville. His passion is contagious.