Along with Martin Scorsese, Bertrand Tavernier is the other major international filmmaker with a passion for film history, preservation and rediscovery. A great admirer of the post-war American genre directors such as Budd Boetticher, Delmer Daves and Anthony Mann, he brings their sense of moral ambiguity to his social (Ça commence aujourd’hui/It All Starts Today, L’Appât/The Bait) and historical (La Vie et rien d’autre/Life and Nothing But, Un dimanche à la campagne/Sunday in the Country) tapestries. Eschewing the currently fashionable cinematic trickery of the likes of Irreversible and He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, he employs a classical, linear structure in his narratives, which are constantly enriched by his maturity of outlook and ever-growing technical mastery of the whole cinematic process.
With the award-winning Laissez-passer (Safe Conduct), Tavernier hits a new level of achievement by finding a compelling narrative located in WW2 Occupied France. The film recounts the parallel stories of two hugely different, real-life film industry talentsothe utterly chaotic screenwriter Jean Aurenche and the superbly well organised assistant director Jean Devaivre (who went on to direct ten feature films after the war). The stories were collected first hand by Tavernier, who knew both men and worked with Aurenche on 1974’s L’Horloger de Saint-Paul (The Watchmaker of St. Paul). Brilliant set-piecesoan allied air-raid on Paris, a perilous night flight across the channel and back, an epic 200-mile bicycle journeyoblend with moments of great intimacy and humour, seamlessly orchestrated by Tavernier’s gifted technical team and beautifully performed by Denis Podalydes (Aurenche) and Jacques Gamblin (Devaivre). A stunning discourse on personal responsibilities and moral duty in the face of organised evil, Laissez-passer is also a song of joy about the moviemaking process itself. It is not to be missed.
France, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 170 mins.

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