Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #5: Techine and Taviani

by David Sterritt

May 17, 1996

Some critics hold the theory that Italian filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani alternate regularly between good movies and bad movies; and there's a subtheory that instead of working together on each project--the professional relationship they claim to have--one is actually the auteur of the successful pictures while the other is reponsible for all the second-raters.

The difficult part of proving this would be deciding which Taviani productions work and which don't--a complicated issue, judging from the many disagreements I've had with critical colleagues over the years. For the record, my favorites include the brilliant "Padre Padrone" and the neglected "Night Sun," while I've always considered "The Night of the Shooting Stars" slightly overrated and "Kaos" extremely so.

In any case, I went into their new "Elective Affinities" with a perfectly open mind, especially since I have a soft spot for Isabelle Huppert and also have fond memories of the Goethe novel it's based on; but whichever Taviani is the good brother, his evil sibling was in there somewhere messing up the works. True, the movie has gorgeous camera work, and the performances are reasonably convincing. But all the earnest acting and sumptuous cinematography in the world couldn't compensate for its perilously low energy level, which becomes downright draining after a while. (Its position in the festival's second half, when critics' own energy levels are likely to be plummeting, didn't help.) The production has French dialogue--probably because of its financing, possibly because of Huppert, and conceivably because there was a passably good Italian version of the novel about a dozen years ago--so it can officially be declared a multinational disappointment.

I walked into "Thieves" with a similar degree of good will, hoping this might be the Andre Techine picture that finally clued me in as to what the fuss over his work is all about. Don't get me wrong, I've respected his movies for many a long year, but I've never managed to get excited about any of them. Meanwhile, his critical reputation has gone steadily up among my American colleagues, leaving me virtually alone in my solitary skepticism.

"Thieves" is as good as any of his films, with a fairly interesting plot and solid performances by Daniel Auteuil, Catherine Deneuve, and a number of less luminous but perfectly persuasive faces. What's missing, for me at least, is a sense of real emotional connection with the characters and their story, which seems wrapped in a sort of intellectual haze that prevents any of the picture's potential feelings from reaching me at full strength. My only consolation is that Techine appears to be cranking out movies at an enormous pace nowadays, so the opus that finally illuminates me about his virtues may be just around the corner.

All of which means the high point of my day was not a screening but rather a talk with Bernardo Bertolucci, less about his disapointing Cannes entry (the lovely but shallow "Stealing Beauty") than about his early days as friend and assistant to Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose connection with his own work is still waiting to be traced and assessed with the carefulness it deserves. Bertolucci is still the great talker I remember from our first meeting in the 1970s, and it's a pleasure to find him in excellent verbal and intellectual form even if his latest on-screen work doesn't click along on all cylinders.

Previous Installment

Back to Cannes Film Festival Diaries

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.