Life and Nothing But

Boycott french fries, but don't miss this look at French filmmaking under the Occupation

With Safe Conduct, a riveting, fact-based look at French filmmaking under the Occupation, director Bertrand Tavernier (A Sunday in the Country, Round Midnight) reaffirms his talent for bringing period pieces to vivid life. The secret, he explains (during a rare visit recently), is the judicious application of speed and suddenness. For example, a composer, clarifying to his colleague why he's just been fired, flashes his yellow star. "It must come as a surprise, as it came very often to the people who were living then," the tall, white-haired director says. "[These revelations are] a way of getting inside the period, not just looking at the period. My obsession was to be totally contemporary to the emotion of the characters. I wanted to avoid the reconstitution, the re-creation, and get the feeling like the camera was there at the time. Not documentary, but living at the same speed."

The movie is based in part on the memoirs of Jean Duvaivre. He, like most of the other characters in the film, found it prudent never to talk politics with anyone. Tavernier recalls that a French critic asked why the characters don't declare their positions. "Because that's a modern vision of the period," he says. As Duvaivre told him, "When we saw someone who we suspected of being a collaborator, we ran away from him. We didn't try to have an argument with him." Tavernier smiles, and goes on, "It makes the character more difficult to write because they are not analyzing, they are living."

Perhaps the last proponent of classic French filmmaking, Tavernier is, not surprisingly, a history buff. "There is now in France, among young people, not only great ignorance of the past but a feeling of pride that that ignorance is vindicated," he declares. "So I think it's important, every time you can, to remind. But I don't want to be given the responsibility of teaching people who are totally ignorant the importance of the past, and the roots of certain political events." When I ask if the current tensions may inspire French moviegoers to avoid American flicks this summer, Tavernier wags a finger in the air. "We are not anti-American," he says. "We are anti-Bush." Safe Conduct opens Friday, March 21, at the UA Galaxy.

Dog Star ManIn the mid-1950s, Stan Brakhage came to the S.F. Art Institute to study under filmmaker Sidney Peterson. Alas, Peterson was on sabbatical that year. "Perhaps that's why Brakhage didn't stay here very long," says a bemused Dominic Angerame, executive director of Canyon Cinema, the venerable S.F.-based distributor of avant-garde films. Brakhage did linger long enough to become friends with Peterson and to make a film, In Between, about the collage artist Jesse Collins, with music by John Cage.

Brakhage, who received an honorary doctorate from the Art Institute in 1981, died of cancer on March 9 at age 70. He completed more than 350 experimental films in his unparalleled career, and was still making movies right up until the end. "Brakhage is like the Shakespeare of experimental filmmaking," Angerame declares. Canyon and the S.F. Cinematheque have set May 29 for a memorial and benefit (Brakhage incurred substantial medical expenses) featuring the Bay Area premiere of his last finished movie, Panels for the Walls of Heaven. Filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky and poet Michael McClure will regale the crowd with tales of Stan's days here during the Beat era. Check back at www.sfcinematheque.org closer to the date for details.

Our Daily BreadSam Green and Bill Siegel's The Weather Underground will open in June at Manhattan's Film Forum. The local filmmakers are on the verge of inking a deal for national distribution. ... Candy Von Dewd, the latest trippy Werepad salute to the glory days of B-movies, plays a month o' Thursdays at the Four Star Theatre, starting March 27. They'll have to ferry the print back to the Mission, though, for the Other Cinema show at Artists' Television Access on March 29. The Werepad's irrepressible Jacques Boyreau's next opus will be House of Jazz: Or How I Learned to Stay Fit and Destroy All Beatniks. ... A batch of stellar public TV documentaries from around the world screens Friday and Saturday, March 21-22, at KQED's studio at 2601 Mariposa (at Bryant) for "The Best of INPUT." Drop by www.kqed.org/tv/indieproducers/index.jsp for details. ... Canadian director Atom Egoyan, one of the most thoughtful and erudite filmmakers of our age, will be at SFMOMA on April 10 with his dark early comedy Family Viewing (1987).

 
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