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Saturday, May 12, 2012

LES TEMOINS / THE WITNESSES (2007)

French writer/director André Téchiné is slightly off his game here, pushing his cast into unconvincing relationships & over-calculating his story points to fit a pre-arranged pattern. But he’s such a whiz at his craft, holding fast to the great French humanist tradition, that he almost brings it off. It’s 1984 and a set of somewhat unlikely friends (children’s book author, vice cop, middle-aged gay doctor, operatic soprano & her hedonistic kid brother) run a gender-variable sexual roundelay, falling in & out with various partners, until the specter of AIDS intrudes on an already complicated situation. Téchiné has to reach too hard setting up his first act, doughy doc Michel Blanc comes within inches of ‘chickenhawk’ territory, Emmanuelle Béart’s aversion to parenthood is too ‘neat’ for a kiddie book writer, and the ‘surprise’ coupling of Sami Bouajila (the vice cop) & Johan Libéreau (the kid) starts up with (wait for it) mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after a near-drowning. (Oy!) But once the health crises begin, the film quickly gains dramatic interest, and not only from the jarringly laissez-faire attitudes the French have toward sex, fidelity & child rearing. Just don’t expect the apologetic, sexless, bathetic tone of a PHILADELPHIA/’93.

DOUBLE-BILL:Téchiné may be best known for WILD REEDS/’94, a superb film that also has a gay coming-of-age theme, but he’s much too fine a director to be ghettoized. His films with Catherine Deneuve & Daniel Auteuil (separately & together) are all worth looking up. SCENE OF THE CRIME/’86 is a particular treat.

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