Bertrand Tavernier Dies: Legendary French Filmmaker Was 79

Bertrand Tavernier
Bertrand Tavernier AP

Bertrand Tavernier, the iconic French filmmaker and passionate cinephile known for such award winning works as A Sunday in the Country, Round Midnight, Capitaine Conan, It All Starts Today and Life and Nothing But, has died at the age of 79. The news was confirmed by France’s Lumière Institute in Lyon of which Tavernier was president.

The organization tweeted: “With his wife Sarah, his children Nils and Tiffany and his grandchildren, the Lumière Institute and Thierry Frémaux are saddened and pained to inform you of the disappearance, today, of Bertrand Tavernier.”

A cause of death has not yet been confirmed, although Tavernier’s friend and fellow filmmaker Claude Lelouch told France Info radio that he had been ill for some time. Lelouch called Tavernier’s passing, “a colossal loss for French cinema.”

Tavernier was born in 1941 in Lyon — which is also considered the birthplace of cinema thanks to the Lumière brothers — and was initially a film critic. He also worked as a press attaché for Stanley Kubrick and was an AD for Jean-Pierre Melville before directing his first film, 1974’s L’Horloger De Saint-Paul (The Clockmaker) in his hometown.

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That film won the Silver Bear for directing at Berlin and also began a collaboration with actor Philippe Noiret that would span another five pictures: 1975’s Que La Fête Commence (Let Joy Reign Supreme), 1976’s Le Juge Et L’Assassin (The Judge And The Assassin), 1981’s Coup De Torchon, 1989’s La Vie Et Rien D’Autre (Life And Nothing But) and 1994’s La Fille D’Artagnan (Revenge Of The Musketeers).

A director, writer and producer, Tavernier made over 30 films, embracing various genres from historical drama to noir, comedy and jazz. Among myriad awards his films have won are the Berlin Golden Bear for 1995’s L’Appat (The Bait), a Best Foreign Language Film BAFTA for Life And Nothing But, the Cannes Best Director prize with 1984’s A Sunday In The Country and five Césars as well as a Venice Lifetime Achievement Golden Lion in 2015.

His 1986 jazz film, Round Midnight, was nominated for two Oscars and won for Herbie Hancock’s original score. It also received a Golden Globe nomination. Among other notable pictures are 1990’s Daddy Nostalgia which featured Dirk Bogarde in his last role. He also directed 2009’s In The Electric Mist starring Tommy Lee Jones.

Tavernier was passionate about cinema, also writing books on the subject including Amis Américains, a celebrated compendium of interviews with 28 major Hollywood directors; and directing the 2016 documentary Journeys Through French Cinema. He became president of the Lumière Institute at the time of its creation in 1982 and founded the Lumière Festival with fellow Lyonnais (and Cannes Film Festival chief) Thierry Frémaux in 2009.

Said filmmaker Robert Guédiguian today, “He was perhaps the man who most loved French cinema.”

Other reactions have poured in with former Cannes Film Festival President Gilles Jacob tweeting, “French cinema is mourning. The filmmaker, the cinephile, the memory, all contributed to the exercise of an art to which he dedicated his life. He will no longer tell us his stories with that powerful force of conviction that made him such a precious auteur.”

Jacob added, “I have the memory of a beast of cinema, to see it, to make it, to talk about it, to defend it with contemporary subjects allowing the exercise of a humanistic temperament, memorable ideas and communicative humor. When we can satisfy our passion to such point, we can say we have had a good life.”

Here are some further reactions:

Taylor Hackford
“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
“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.”

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