My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.

This week focuses on three more films directed by one of my favorite French filmmakers, Bertrand Tavernier.



Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

This education drama is further evidence that Bertrand Tavernier did his best work in the 90s. Working with his leading man from the powerful CAPTAIN CONAN, the French director crafts a quiet yet striking depiction of what it’s like to be a teacher.

IT ALL STARTS TODAY follows Philippe Torreton through many trials and tribulations as the head of a kindergarten in a small mining town. Many of the parents are out of work, depressed, and struggling to even get their kids to school. Tavernier’s picture is definitely “social realism” but without banging the viewer over the head with a message. He simply presents the situation and the daily fight for all involved. A late picture tragic moment is showed without dramatic flourishes, something I have a hard time believe any American filmmaker could pull off. But Tavernier, like he did with the masterful cop drama L.627, has a brilliant ability to depict the ordinary for two hours in a way that has me glued to the screen. It’s a talent I admire and want to learn from.

Watched on Criterion Channel.



Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Bertrand Tavernier’s WWII/French Resistance is long but I actually wish it was longer. It feels like Tavernier needed a miniseries canvas for this story, one that takes its time exploring the details of its characters’ lives and work during wartime rather than focusing on dramatic events.

That is common to the director’s work, a filmmaker whose best movies weave through life in the most unusual but powerful way, while his least successful seem to ramble in an unfocused direction. For me, SAFE CONDUCT is somewhere in between. It doesn’t have the unity, the emotional power of L.627 and IT ALL STARTS TODAY and in many ways it resembles the other jumbled yet fascinated period pieces from his career such LET JOY REIGN SUPREME. Yet, the tales of these filmmakers working in occupied France is a compelling one, mostly because Tavernier doesn’t over-dramatize their experience. He chooses an assistant director as the main protagonist, a crew position that doesn’t get a lot of screen time or even verbal attention from non-filmmakers. I love all the scenes that show the craft of moviemaking and wish another hour or more could have been spent just exploring the world of making films in France during this time. Clouzot is discussed at length but never shown, clearly a conscious decision, but I longed more a further dive into the cinematic culture and personalities of the era.

The other key character is a screenwriter and his story is a little less intriguing, though it gives the movie some nice moments of intimacy and humor. The strongest scenes in SAFE CONDUCT come when Tavernier explores the visceral sides of the story: the bombing of Paris and the incredible bicycle rides of the protagonist through the countryside. It’s there that I felt the unique, cinematic touch Bertrand left on world cinema. And although this film isn’t one of my favorites of his work, I continue to enjoy exploring what he gave us.

Watched on Criterion Channel.



Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

FRESH BAIT or THE BAIT is a sick, mean movie about teenage killers with no moral center. Clearly commenting on the youth and media culture of the day, Bertrand Tavernier’s stroke of genius is being able to live with the characters instead of judging them from afar.

I do not know why this film isn’t one of the few mentions in discussions of the director’s work. It’s hard to find and I have never seen it mentioned in retrospective pieces yet I found it superior to SAFE CONDUCT and most of Tavernier’s early, idiosyncratic work. His strongest years were the 90s when he focused on socially conscious pictures without a heavy hand and FRESH BAIT fits perfectly in the center of that unforgettable phase in his career. The film is chilling and hard to watch. The casual indifference with which the young French trio kills troubled me for hours long after the movie was complete.

Full of energy and Tavernier’s wonderful tracking camera shots, FRESH BAIT is an incredible film, one that has sadly been forgotten and should be remembered.

Watched on