Nationality: French. Born: Valence d'Agen, 13 March 1943. Education: Lycée at Valence d'Agen. Career: Writer for Cahiers du Cinéma and assistant to stage director Marc'O and film director Jacques Rivette, 1964–67; his second film, Souvenirs d'en France, establishes him as an important director, 1974; friendship with writer Roland Barthes, who dedicates essay "Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein" to him, 1977; international success of his autobiographical film LesRoseaux sauvages, 1994. Awards: Cannes Film Festival Best Director, for Rendez-vous, 1985; César Awards for Best Director and Best Writer, and New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film, for Les Roseaux sauvages, 1995. Agent: Artmedia, 10 Avenue George V, 75008 Paris.
Films as Director and Writer/Co-Writer:
Paulina s'en va
Souvenirs d'en France (French Provincial)
Les Soeurs Brontë (The Brontë Sisters)
Hotel des Amériques
La Matiouette (short, for TV)
L'atelier (doc short, for TV)
Le Lieu du crime (Scene of the Crime)
J'embrasse pas (I Don't Kiss)
Ma saison préferée (My Favorite Season)
Le Chêne et le roseau (The Oak and the Reed) (for the TV series Tous les garçons et les filles de leur age); LesRoseaux sauvages (Wild Reeds)
Les Voleurs (Thieves)
Que sont-ils devenus? (for TV)
Alice et Martin (Alice and Martin)
Terminus des anges
Aloise (de Kermadec) (co-sc)
Mauvaise fille (Franc) (co-sc)
Transatlantique (Laurent) (sc)
On TÉCHINÉ: books—
Philippon, Alain, André Téchiné, Paris, 1988.
Forbes, Jill, The Cinema in France: After the New Wave, Bloomington, 1993.
On TÉCHINÉ: articles—
Kael, Pauline, "Lion-hearted Women," in The New Yorker, 1 March 1976.
Rafferty, Terrence, "Rendez-vous/Scene of the Crime," in The Nation (New York), 7 February 1987.
White, Armond, "Strange Gifts: André Téchiné Remakes the Melodrama," in Film Comment (Berkeley), July/August 1995.
Riding, Alan, "Finding Cinematic Gold in the Dysfunctional Family," in The New York Times, 29 December 1996.
Everett, Wendy, "Film at the Crossroads: Les Roseaux sauvages," in French Cinema in the 1990s: Continuity and Difference, edited by Phil Powrie, Oxford, 1999.
On TÉCHINÉ: film—
André Téchiné, apres la nouvelle vague, 1994.
* * *
André Téchiné belongs to a generation of French filmmakers, including Bertrand Blier and Bertrand Tavernier among those with an international reputation, who came into prominence in the mid-1970s. Many of his films have been classified as melodramas, though it might be more accurate to say that they play with conventions of melodrama and the thriller while exploring psychological states and social structures, with particular emphasis upon estrangement from home, both family and milieu. Intricately plotted or seemingly improvisatory—it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference—often with bizarre turns of event and unexpected sexual attractions, his films also feature memorable performances of both established stars—Catherine Deneuve above all—and young unknowns like Juliette Binoche and Élodie Boucher. With a trio of films in the mid-1990s—My Favorite Season, Wild Reeds, and Thieves—Téchiné reached what many critics found to be a new power and maturity as a filmmaker.
Téchiné first came into prominence with Souvenirs d'en France. Filmed in the director's native village, it is a highly compressed history of a small-town family from early in the century through the Resistance and on to May 1968. In a series of vignettes Téchiné explores intersections of private life and historical forces—as he would later do in the autobiographical Wild Reeds, though in a much briefer timeframe. Souvenirs d'en France is also densely allusive in regard to cinema history: it "quotes" a great many films and film styles via its own eclectic visual style, its echoes of other family-dynasty movies, and its references to actual films the characters see. At the same time, it provides juicy roles for Jeanne Moreau and Marie-France Pisier as women who marry into the family and become rivals—Moreau a laundress who becomes a matriarch and Pisier a bourgeoise who seeks the glamour of America.
Téchiné's next film, Barocco, set the pattern for several works to follow, especially in its roots in the crime thriller, its perverse love relationships—characters helplessly drawn to dangerously violent people—and its fascination with train stations, including their cafes and the bridges connecting them to gritty neighborhoods. The film could not be more aptly named: it is "baroque" in both its convoluted plot and its elaborate camera movements and widescreen framings which turn the station and the unnamed city itself into a labyrinth. The plot involves a boxer (Gérard Depardieu) who has accepted and then turned down a huge bribe from a politician to tell a lie that will influence an election, a hired killer (Depardieu again, though no one seems to register just how very much the two look alike) who slays the boxer, and the boxer's girlfriend (Isabelle Adjani), who eventually falls in love with the killer while trying to remake him into the image of her slain lover—a sort of bizarre reverse spin on the plot of Vertigo (itself based on a French novel). If one were to judge the film in terms of plausible narrative, it would hardly be worth discussing—Vertigo is documentary realism in comparison—but in its virtuoso photography by Bruno Nuytten and its toying with themes of identity and doubles, not to mention its political critique within a thriller context, Barocco has its compelling moments. The whole train station sequence from Adjani's arrival to the shooting of the boxer by his double is a tour de force of cinematography and editing.
Making a film biography of the Brontë sisters gave Téchiné the opportunity to use an all-star cast (Pisier, Adjani, and Isabelle Huppert) while exploring one of literary history's famed dysfunctional families, but most critics found The Brontë Sisters unable to leap beyond the conventions of movie biography—though there is a memorable scene of the three sisters rescuing their naked, unconscious brother from a fire in his bedroom. Far more successful was Hotel des Amériques, the story of a hopelessly ill-matched love affair between a woman (Catherine Deneuve) recovering from the suicide of a former lover and a man (Patrick Dewaere) feverishly attracted to her, but behaving like a spoiled child in moments of anger and jealousy, and still emotionally attached to a parasitic and bullying male friend. The casting is perfect, with Deveuve's emotional opaqueness and Dewaere's brooding, haunted intensity suggesting dimensions of their characters beyond articulation. And the film has interests extending well beyond its central couple, from the secondary characters with their own mysterious love afflictions to the setting of Biarritz, a formerly glamorous tourist town which the Deneuve character hates for somehow being neither "France" nor foreign, and neither urban nor rural, but all of the characters are partly defined by their relation to it.
Rendez-vous is more flamboyantly melodramatic than Hotel des Amériques, as even a very brief plot summary might suggest. Here a would-be actress (Binoche, callow but already with true screen presence) fleeing her provincial home for Paris is irrationally in love with a sadistic, self-destructive young actor (Lambert Wilson, repellent yet fiercely strong in the role), a former Romeo who caused the death of his Juliet and who is now playing a "Romeo" in a live-sex show. When the actor himself is killed in an accident, or possible suicide, his former mentor/director (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and father of the Juliet, determines to cast the untried Binoche as his new Juliet, though Wilson's ghost (or her own hallucination) tries to stop her. Again a wildly improbable plot serves as a vehicle for exploring the violent intensity of certain emotional attachments and their ability to cause one's life to spin off in unexpected directions. Hardly less extravagant is Scene of the Crime, which begins with a scene between a boy and an escaped convict right out of the opening of Great Expectations, but climaxes with the boy (a highly troubled youth himself) discovering his mother (Deneuve again) having sex with the handsome young convict—one of the stranger representations of Freud's "primal scene" in cinema. But plot summary and performance description do little justice to these films, which share with most of Téchiné's work a restless camera movement and seemingly casual editing that suggest a nervous, intense curiosity, equivalent to an artist's rapid sketching. Scene of the Crime, for example, directs our attention to a gorgeous French countryside (and to Deneuve's lakeside disco, deceptively serene when seen from afar), an ironic backdrop for two kinds of characters: those living repressed lives in a stifling bourgeois environment and those, more uninhibited, who play out a series of violent passions, with the boy caught in the middle.
Les Innocents and J'embrasse pas (seldom seen outside France) show Téchiné moving away from genre pictures while continuing to explore complex sets of emotional involvements, now more centrally concerning homosexual attractions, and in Les Innocents a theme he will take up again in Wild Reeds: repercussions of the French-Algerian conflict on individual lives. The more widely distributed My Favorite Season may be Téchiné's most incisively detailed portrait of an unhappy family, with Daniel Auteuil giving one of his most brilliant performances as an emotionally volatile physician long estranged from his mother and sister (the latter played once again by Deneuve, effortlessly revealing the complexities of middle age). Like many another Téchiné character, the brother is unpredictable in his outbursts, but these are now rooted in a plausible family conflict rather than a baroque plot. Wild Reeds stands apart from Téchiné's other films in its having had restrictions placed upon it from outside—restrictions which paradoxically seem to have allowed the director to make one of his freest, most graceful, and open-ended films. A French television network invited a number of directors to make an hour-long film for an anthology series about adolescence: each film was required to be more or less autobiographical, to give a sense of historical context, and to contain a party scene and popular songs of the day. Téchiné made not only "The Oak and the Reed" but a feature-length version of the same material to be shown in theatres as a kickoff for the series. Wild Reeds is centered upon four teenagers, three boys and a girl, each struggling with far from trivial coming-ofage concerns: for example, François is trying to come to terms with hs realization that he is gay, while Henri, a pied-noir (French-Algerian immigrant), is defensive of the French presence in Algeria. The film never preaches a "correct" position on sexuality or politics, though it is clearly enough in support of a generosity of understanding; but what makes it come alive is what might be called the director's investigative style of camera movement and framing, by means of which he seems effortlessly to evoke the early 1960s and to expand his story to other lives beyond the four adolescents. In the final scenes, when the youths go swimming in a river and walk off to an uncertain future, we see without the point being hammered down that they are the reeds which bend instead of breaking.
For Thieves Téchiné takes up gangster melodrama, constructing a plot around a robbery that goes murderously awry—yet, perhaps through the experience of Wild Reeds and its free-form but not frayed or fragmented narrative, he has come up with perhaps his most accomplished and original film in terms of complex structure and shifting point-of-view. The story is divided into marked sections, each narrated by one of several characters, and each taking us backward or forward over days or months in time. Téchiné reunites Arteuil and Deneuve, playing exceedingly dissimilar characters, a cop and a philosophy professor, who are brought together over their sexual involvement with a much younger and very desperate woman (Laurence Cote) who works for a crime family of which Arteuil is the "white" sheep. One must add that the cop has quite enough hang-ups, sexual and otherwise, to make him far from a simple protagonist; that the young woman has a brother involved in crime like the cop's own brother (another example of Téchiné's love of doublings); and that once again the director features a troubled boy (the cop's nephew) unable to break from a family trap—in this case, too young to know he is ensnared.
In a New York Times interview Téchiné has said that he begins work on a film with a vivid scene or compelling character or two in mind, and only eventually constructs a coherent story and finds an ending. (To be sure, since his plots rarely have full closure, his endings typically suggest a number of alternatives.) This method of development may explain why his earlier films like Barocco and Rendez-vous seem to have dazzling moments and scenes but little sense of a coherent drama evolving toward an inevitable conclusion. But it also suggests how films like Wild Reeds and Thieves can seem so loose in structure and yet so accomplished, each part organically related to every other and drawing us powerfully toward their denouements. It is exciting to see a filmmaker so lavishly talented in youth create films in middle age that seem no less fiery in their passions or incisive in their technique while attaining a new sense of full achievement.