Obituary

Maverick, award-winning French film-maker Bertrand Tavernier dies aged 79

French director Bertrand Tavernier won fans and international fame with his unique mix of classy period pieces and campaigning contemporary dramas. He died on Thursday at the age of 79.
French director Bertrand Tavernier won fans and international fame with his unique mix of classy period pieces and campaigning contemporary dramas. He died on Thursday at the age of 79. FADEL SENNA AFP/File

While his near-contemporaries, Claude Chabrol, Fred Godard and François Truffaut, were surfing the Nouvelle Vague of French cinema in the 1960s, Bertrand Tavernier put his camera away for a decade, deciding to work instead as press attaché for Stanley Kubrick. He would go on to make 40 memorable films and win numerous awards.

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Tributes have been pouring in for Tavernier, who had a long and fruitful career in cinema.

Fellow director Claude Lelouch called him "a great cinema maker and film historian."

"He must have suffered terribly" from the closure of cinemas around the country due to the Covid lockdowns, he said.

Born in the French city of Lyon in 1941, Tavernier believed that the cinema should tell stories. He preferred the classics of the 1930s . . . structured, crafted films, based on well-written scripts . . . to the often chaotic, ad lib efforts of the stars of the New Wave.

His father was a writer, publisher and active member of the Résistance against the Nazi German Occupation.

Tavernier was nine when the family moved to Paris.

His first professional steps were taken as a cinema critic, writing for the magazines Télérama and Cahiers du Cinéma. Tavernier worked as an assistant director to Jean-Pierre Melleville, notably on the 1961 film Léon Morin prêtre, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Decades-long association with actor Philippe Noiret

The name of Bertrand Tavernier is indissolubly linked to that of the actor Philippe Noiret, the pair making six films together, from the 1974 L'Horloger de Saint-Paul to La Fille de d'Artagnan twenty years later.

Tavernier liked to work on historical subjects . . . the tragic aftermath of the First World War, Africa at the height of colonialism . . . and was not afraid of offending orthodoxy.

He voted for right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2005, saying that the French Left no longer had the courage of its convictions.

Tavernier fought tirelessly against censorship, against the use of torture during the Algerian war of independence, for migrants' rights, and for the defence of European cinema against Hollywood.

He was a jazz fan and prolific writer about American cinema.

He won a BAFTA award in 1990 for Life and Nothing But, his searing drama about the search to identify corpses left on the battlefields of World War I.

The film also won a César, France's version of the Oscars, for best actor for Philippe Noiret.

Tavernier's last full-length feature was the 2013 comedy Quai d'Orsay, about life at the French foreign ministry in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002.

Bertrand Tavernier was divorced from the screenwriter Colo O'Hagan, with whom he had a daughter, Tiffany.

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