Bertrand Tavernier, the veteran French director of a series of acclaimed films such as A Sunday in the Country, Round Midnight and These Foolish Things, has died at the age of 79. The news was announced by the Institut Lumière, a film organization of which he was president. No cause of death was given.
Tavernier’s production was prolific: he made his directorial debut in 1974 with The Watchmaker of São Paulo and worked non-stop until 2013, when he released his latest feature film, The French Minister. He also took on a wide variety of material, from crime and black, to comedy, jazz, and historical drama.
Born in Lyon in 1941, Tavernier was the son of magazine editor René Tavernier, whose anti-Nazi principles would greatly influence Bertrand. Like the generation of French New Wave directors who slightly preceded him, Tavernier grew up a film obsessive; After moving to Paris after the war, he founded his own magazine and landed a job as an assistant director to Jean-Pierre Melville on the 1961 Léon Morin film, Prêtre. By his own admission, he was as bad as AD that Melville named him a publicist for his follow-up, Le Doulos. It was in this role that Tavernier made his first mark on the film industry, working as a publicist on a number of new wave classics, such as Jean-Luc Godard’s Desprecio and Agnés Varda’s Cleo de 5 à 7. “We were the first movie publicists who were movie buffs, we only accepted the movies we liked,” he told The Guardian in 2008.
However, Tavernier always had the ambition to venture into directing, returning to Lyon to make an adaptation of Georges Simenon’s novel The Everton Watchmaker, starring Philippe Noiret, the gloomy-looking actor who would become a regular contributor. Noiret appeared in Tavernier’s next film, the period drama Let Joy Reign Supreme about an 18th-century rebellion against the crown, which won four Caesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars.
Tavernier’s interest in American crime literature was demonstrated with films such as Coup de Torchon (1981), adapted from Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280 and starring Noiret with Isabelle Huppert; it was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film. However, Tavernier’s biggest international breakthrough was A Sunday in the Country (1984), a fin de siècle drama set about an elderly painter whose family is visiting; it won wide acclaim and a host of awards, including best director at the Cannes film festival. Tavernier followed up with what is arguably still his best-known film: Round Midnight, released in 1986, starring Dexter Gordon as a jazz musician struggling to survive in Paris and New York.
Tavernier had more success with Life and Nothing But, with Noiret as a military investigator after WWI, and then These Foolish Things, so he convinced Dirk Bogarde to come out of retirement for a drama about the relationship between a man. dying man and his screenwriter daughter (played by Jane Birkin). In the 1990s, Tavernier made well-received crime films L.627 and The Bait, as well as the brilliant swordsman Revenge of the Musketeers, starring Sophie Marceau. In 2002, Tavernier focused on the French film industry itself as the subject of Safe Conduct, based on a memoir by Jean Devaivre and centered on the Nazi occupation. However, Devaivre fell out with Tavernier, and French critics accused the director of attacking the New Wave.
In 2009, Tavernier finally realized his ambition to make a Hollywood thriller: In the Electric Mist, set in Louisiana, was adapted from a James Lee Burke novel and starred Tommy Lee Jones as Burke’s detective Dave Robicheaux. . However, the experience was not happy; Tavernier told The Guardian that he “found everything more difficult than working in France,” and although the film was selected for the Berlin film festival, it did not open in theaters in the United States.
Back at home, the breadth of Tavernier’s enthusiasm for film was showcased in his lengthy 2016 documentary My Journey Through French Cinema, in which he expanded on filmmakers such as Melville, Jacques Becker, and Robert Bresson.