The Adventures of Pierre et Bertrand

Sep 14, 2007

Some people have seen an impossible number of movies, and the most astonishing part is that they actually remember them all. Pierre Rissient, who is very much on our minds these days, is one of those. Producer, director, distributor, talent spotter, selector of films for festivals, uncredited advisor to top directors, and éminence grise of world cinema, Rissient alternately cajoles you and bowls you over with his seemingly endless film knowledge, which he lays out as if every word were indisputably true and obvious, and you were lucky to be invited to agree with him. Todd McCarthy has been showing a feature-length doc about him at festivals, starting with Cannes, where Pierre has been a kingmaker for decades. I saw it in Telluride and picked up a lot of history, hearing the tales of his life among filmmakers: immersing himself in cinema alongside Godard and Truffaut at Langlois’ Cinémathèque française, taking Fritz Lang to see Deep Throat, trying to keep John Ford sober and awake on a press junket to Paris. He has been relentless in promoting the filmmakers he believes in, from Abbas Kiarostami to Clint Eastwood to Hou Hsiao-hsien, and, for their part, they credit him with opening the door to the recognition they deserved.

His erstwhile business partner, perennial sparring partner, and fellow champion of cinema since the sixties has been Bertrand Tavernier, director of Coup de torchon, Round Midnight, and more than twenty other films. He is another one of those people who can recite, shot for shot, more movies than I will ever see. He just finished principle photography in Louisiana on a film with Tommy Lee Jones, and all through the shooting he was asking us to send DVDs down to him to show to his actors or his crew or the novelist James Lee Burke, whose novel Tavernier is adapting for the screen. Overlord, Casque d’or, My Man Godfrey, Tanner ’88. Today he forwarded me a comment about Raymond Bernard that someone posted to his DVDBlog. Even if you can’t read French, just scanning down the page, past all the boldface titles, gives you an idea of how many films Tavernier can take in—even when he’s shooting a movie himself. And if you do read French, you’ll be rewarded with a little nugget about Orson Welles’s Mr. Arkadin. Tavernier scolds us gently for taking Welles too much at his word when he disowned Confidential Report, the version of the film that was originally released in Europe. According to Tavernier, and Rissient, the version released by Louis Dolivet was okay with Welles when originally released, and it wasn’t until many years later that Welles began to cultivate the idea that there was a vision of the film he’d never been allowed to achieve. As with everything Welles, this could be yet another layer of mystification, but Rissient and Tavernier are so plugged in to the arcana of world cinema history that if we hadn’t just been scolded for it, I’d be inclined to take them at their word . . .