In Memoriam of Bertrand Tavernier

Contre-Champ AFC n°318

[English] [français]

The recent passing of Bertrand Tavernier has elicited many reactions from all sides of the world of cinema. Besides those written by a few personalities, we share below memorials written by Richard Andry, AFC, Pierre-William Glenn, AFC, Agnes Godard, AFC, Laurent Heynemann, Pascal Lebègue, AFC, Denis Lenoir, AFC, Gilles Porte, AFC, and Myriam Vinocour, AFC.

Great sadness. Bertrand has left us. He was an extraordinary and unique person. I was lucky to work with him on several occasions. First, as an assistant cameraman to Pierre-William Glenn on Que la fête commence and Le Juge et l’assassin. Each time, it was an adventure and a rich journey. On Que la fête commence, in order to obtain an image inspired by Regency-era paintings and candlelight, we shot with the first wide aperture lenses available in France, F&B Ceco, that Chevereau brought from the United States and that opened at 1.1 and 1.3, according to the lenses, on a Mitchell mount adapted to an Arri BL3. A real challenge, but one that we carried out. The film was released in 1975, the same year as Barry Lyndon.
Bertrand was a highly-cultivated storyteller. He was warm, funny, and his joy was contagious. I remember one of his favorite expressions was : “That’s hilarious !” [c’est poilant] when, rubbing his hands and shaken by a good hearty laugh, he was enjoying again the good joke he’d just told us. We often laughed and the ambience on set was always good. His relationship with the actors was based on trust and respect and there was an almost family-like mood on set. With actors like Noiret, Rochefort, Marielle : it was really a party. Shooting with him was a pleasure. On Le Juge et l’assassin, we were shooting in Ardèche in autumn. He liked to add maxims and jokes on the daily call sheet, and encouraged us to do the same : the sheet quickly became our local paper. These two lovely films (and the many others) illustrate the formidable and symbiotic working relationship Bertrand and Pierre-William had together. My partner worked with him on Daddy nostalgie, so I had the pleasure of meeting with Bertrand again several years later. He helped us to finance a project, and we remained in contact with one another and we dined several times with him, and it was always “hilarious”. Bertrand was loyal and generous. After spending time with him, you always felt richer and more joyful. He was always very busy with different projects but, always ready to lend an ear, he never let you down when you needed him. He was passionate about music and since I didn’t know Buddy DeFranco, he gifted me one of his CDs. Yes, he was extraordinary and unique and sided with all fights against injustice. He leaves us an important œuvre : his films, his books and all of the marvelous interviews that he generously and warmly gave us, never using wooden language, throughout his professional life. Yes, but we will miss the man. Goodbye Bertrand.
Richard Andry, AFC

Bertrand Tavernier
Bertrand Tavernier
Photo Institut Lumière

I have Denis Lenoir to thank for the opportunity of working with Bertrand Tavernier as a camerawoman on Daddy nostalgie, with Dirk Bogarde, Jane Birkin and Odette Laure, screenplay by Colo Tavernier, a film slightly out of step with the rest of his filmography.
I recall his phenomenal knowledge of French and American cinema.
He was literally inhabited by it and sharing it gave him a malicious pleasure, perhaps more than the intimate film we shot in Bandol, in Scope, in autumn.
I also recall his resemblance with his father, René Tavernier, who was once a teacher of mine.
Agnès Godard, AFC

The image of Bertrand promoting my first film on Michel Drucker’s talk show… That sums up his passion and generosity. He shattered my shyness and gave me self-confidence, he pushed me to fight against obstacles, to overcome rejection, to quickly move forward on projects, to convince the hesitant, to turn my back on enemies, and to identify my defenders.
In short, he made me a director.
Behind that ferocious energy to push his assistants and his friends forward, he pushed us upwards. Towards more ambition… In one of the last conversations I had with him about the colour grading of Que la fête commence, which he wanted Jean Achache and I to approve since he was too weak to come to Paris himself, I asked him what was most important for him in the image of the film. It was to inspire my overall vision. He answered : “Willy’s daring”.
Laurent Heynemann, director

Laurent Heynemann et Bertrand Tavernier invités dans une émission de Michel Drucker
Laurent Heynemann et Bertrand Tavernier invités dans une émission de Michel Drucker
Capture d’écran

I only knew Bertrand as a camera assistant.
He was my first shot outdoors, for the final weeks of Le Juge et l’assassin in the Cevennes (the Vivarais, to be precise), and it was unforgettable.
I was filling in for my friend Richard, who had to be at Alga for the tests for the “next one”.
I remember the first 1,000 feet I unloaded and put into their case. The work of the entire crew, the actors, Bertrand, the set, it was all there in front of me in the darkroom ! I couldn’t sleep because of it, I was in a trance until the phone call to LTC was made the following day.
Bertrand was classical and wasn’t ashamed of it (post-New Wave, one might say). He loved John Ford and Hollywood, travelling shots and, above all, the actors. What enthusiasm for the actors ! But with the likes of Noiret, Galabru, Huppert and Brialy, he was spoiled !
Bertrand is and will always be related to my first steps, my initiation, the start of a wonderful five-year-long adventure with Pierre-William and 45 lightyears with the cinema.
One never forgets that sort of thing. Thank you, Bertrand !
Pascal Lebègue, AFC

It was in 1989, a few weeks at Sanary alongside Jane Birkin and Dirk Bogarde for Daddy nostalgie, which we shot in the lighting of an eternal 5 p.m., golden and a bit sad. Bertrand and I quickly understood at that time that this would be our only film together. That didn’t stop us from continuing to see one another regularly over the course of the following years ; I don’t know why he enjoyed having dinner with me, but I know how much I liked those moments he was generous enough to share with me.

Sur le tournage de "Daddy nostalgie", en 1989
Sur le tournage de "Daddy nostalgie", en 1989
De g. à d. : Denis Lenoir, Bertand Tavernier, Jane Birkin et Dirk Bogarde

Bertrand had an extraordinary memory, and he would retain in great detail all of the books he had read and all of the films he had seen, and he had read and seen an incredibly great number of them. Fantastically erudite, he was a boundless reservoir of anecdotes, always enthusiastically recounted, his voice becoming shriller at the end of a tale. I occasionally saw him again in the United States, especially at the Telluride festival, where his English, a curious mix of a Maurice Chevalier accent and a stupefyingly rich vocabulary, allowed him to charm all of his audiences.
Denis Lenoir, AFC, ASC, ASK

Dear Bertrand,
One never forgets one’s first time at anything.
My first film as a first assistant was offered to me by Alain Choquart and it was L.627. How moved and proud I was to work alongside you.
I remember this film as though it were yesterday. Our hidden camera shots from a police van equipped for surveillance in 300 mm in the middle of Barbès. The Algecos, the squats, and the chases in the Metro where Jean Roger Milo didn’t stop running even after the “Cut !”.
Then, there was La Guerre sans nom, a magnificent documentary on the Algerian War. You and I crisscrossed the entire country up to the moment the Gulf War broke out. Soon after, it was L’Appât.
You had that contagious enthusiasm that pushed everyone to be better. To surpass oneself. To try to make you “happy”. You were proud of your crew.
Always a story to tell us, a book or a film to recommend to us.
You would ask us questions, you’d be just as happy as everyone else to see the film come together.
Capitaine Conan, another unforgettable adventure in deepest Romania. This was my last film as an assistant with you, and the first where you allowed me to frame the shots.
I remember the screenings of the 35mm dailies in a makeshift cinema with a projector brought from France, and how feverish I felt when I had to load the machine.
Then, I worked on Laissez-passer as the DoP for the 2d Crew. That was a great honor for me.
Time went by. When I heard you’d left us, I began to cry.
I would have liked to say goodbye to you properly…
For everything you were, an enthusiastic and modest man of the cinema.
You loved people above all, and your way of expressing it was to make movies.
Thank you, Bertrand, thank you so much for having allowed me to cross paths with you !
Affectionately yours,
Myriam Vinocour, AFC

  • Also read a letter by Pierre-William Glenn, AFC
  • Read the article indicating links towards texts by Thierry Frémeaux, Martin Scorsese, Serge Toubiana, and Emile Ghigo, ADC

The thumbnail image of this article shows Bertrand Tavernier on location of La Princesse de Montpensier - Photo Etienne George

Translated from French by A. Baron-Raiffe