The Witnesses

The Witnesses


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Andre Techine's last film, Changing Times, was a sprawling ensemble drama, with too many facets to count, let alone care about. Here, he has wittled down the cast, yet the story still feels slightly too big for one movie and has an odd, shifting tone.

Sarah (Emmanuelle Beart, whose lip enhancement gives her the look of a pouting duck these days) is a writer suffering from block - why does no one in films ever find writing easy? - and may also be suffering post-natal depression. In any event, she puts in earplugs so she can't hear the kid scream and generally spends time mooching about the house, failing to communicate with her policeman husband Mehdi (Sami Bouajila) or out and about with her gay doctor pal Adrian (Michel Blanc).

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Adrian, meanwhile, is becoming besotted with a young, newcomer to Paris, Manu (Johan Libéreau), who views him only as a friend.

Things get tangled and, just when you think it is going down the love triangle to disaster route, it takes a new tack and becomes an exploration of the emergence of AIDS in 1980s France, as experienced by the four central protagonists.

On the plus side Techine gets a good handle on the sense of a disease that was unknown and spreading like wildfire, causing fear and backlash against the gay community. The script - co-written by Techine with Laurent Guyot and Vivianne Zingg - also carefully explores issues of unrequited and platonic love, through the relationship of Mehdi and Adrian, and the way that the onset of tragedy can bring about shifting loyalties even between the firmest of friends. The film also rejects the stereotypes that frequently dog gay characters, allowing them to flourish, although the female protagonists feel less fleshed out. In particular, Julie Depardieu, as Manu's sister, is given little to do, while a prostitute character (Constance Dollé, looking for all the world like a young Stockard Channing, and undoubtedly a great actress) is given too much screen time considering she is barely integral to the overall arc.

The film is not without its faults in terms of story, either. There is such a lot of ground being covered that not all the action convinces. Issues of bisexuality are dropped into the mix with barely a backward glance and lack believability, despite strong performances from the cast. Other issues - such as the possible post-natal depression - seem to be used as mere cyphers to convey the consumerism of the Eighties, then largely forgotten about as Techine's focus shifts.

Excellent turns from Johan Libereau and veteran Michel Blanc lie at the heart of what is best in the film - the exploration of broken hearts and dreams - but despite its emotional punch the storytelling occasionally strains at the bounds of credibility.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2007
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Exploration of how the advent of AIDS affects a group of friends in Eighties France.

Director: Andre Techine

Writer: Andre Techine,

Starring: Johan Libereau, Michel Blanc, Emmanuelle Beart, Sami Boualjila, Julie Depardieu, Constance Dolle, Lorenzo Balducci

Year: 2007

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: France


EIFF 2007

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