Prior to meeting with Guy Maddin yesterday for a Zoom conversation on The Rabbit Hunters, starring Isabella Rossellini as Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina combined into one persona, I passed on the very sad news that Bertrand Tavernier had died.
In 2019, Bertrand Tavernier was appointed to be UniFrance’s American Ambassador for New York’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema and was scheduled to introduce François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. He was unable to attend at the last moment and was replaced by Paul Schrader who did the honours.
Anne-Katrin Titze: Hello!
Guy Maddin: Great to see you!
AKT: Great to see you too!
GM: I hadn’t heard about Bertrand Tavernier. I’ve been working and offline all morning. That’s sad to hear. I haven’t had a chance to read your tribute. You obviously met him at least once.
AKT: I’ve met him a few times. I’m still working on the tribute. Have you met him?
GM: No, the closest I came to meeting him was the very first time I went to the Telluride Film Festival with my very experimental movie Archangel (1990) and Telluride was not the right festival for that film. People walked out on it like crazy, but Tavernier came in at the beginning and crouched down and started watching and I thought “Oh, my god, Bertrand Tavernier is watching my movie!” But he up and walked out after about five minutes.
AKT: Oh no!
GM: But he narrated a package of Lumière films that became very precious to me. I just found his narration, you know, his explanation of what he loved about Lumière films and his delight. He would just crack up laughing now and then. It was just a DVD I watched a million times in the early Aughts or late Nineties whenever it was that it came out. He really taught me how to love the Lumières because they had always been as dry as dust before. Thanks to him and his voice and his delight, his Gallic delight, I think of them every day now.
AKT: That’s beautiful. I love that you say Gallic delight!
GM: With the very thick accent that his English had, he would say “Now de man is stepping on de hose and de water is splashing.” And then he would be laughing. Amazing, you know. “And de baby is at the breakfast table …” I don’t know, it’s just amazing. He just taught me how to look at film a little more closely. It was great.
AKT: That’s what he did. When I talked with him about My Journey Through French Cinema he brought up all the unknown composers of French cinema and he brought them close to you and explaining that, it was just wonderful. I really appreciated his knowledge and expertise.
GM: He feels like the last - or is he the last? - of that whatever spirit that the French New Wave created in France, the Cahiers crowd. That French way of looking at movies. I don’t even know how old he was. How old was he? Was he in his eighties?
GM: 79, yeah. Geez, when I saw him, I was so young. I thought he was ancient already. But he was only 50. When I saw him at Telluride, whatever. Age! I think of numbers all the time. Age is only a number but what numbers!
The Rabbit Hunters was commissioned by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) to honour the centenary of Fellini. The world premiere of the short was screened with Fellini’s documentary fantasia Fellini: A Director’s Notebook on March 11, 2020 at BAMPFA, just before the pandemic took hold of Canada.