‘Alain Tanner’s cinema asserts itself at the crossroads of two chronologies, of two moments of history. A political moment: the post-68 is the space-time where his first films are written. An aesthetic moment: the work corresponds to the emergence of the “new cinemas” that is to say the sequence 1965-1975 which revealed filmmakers as considerable as Glauber Rocha, Miklós Jancsó, Jerzy Skolimowski or Marco Bellocchio. What brings these filmmakers together, despite styles and approaches that are very different, is the common ground of an aesthetic work that extends the lessons of the “great moderns” of the post-war period (Rossellini, Bresson). to engage in the ironic or post-modernist “post-modernity” that will come later, but to find the correspondences between the language they had invented and the new world born in this after-war period; but unlike the other directors mentioned who each invented a ballasted imaginary of their country of origin (the mixed Brazil of Rocha, the very political Hungary of Jancsó, the Italy of Bellocchio …), Alain Tanner will create, with his films , a world built on a fault of origin: Switzerland.
‘The filmmaker once said he was sorry that he could not take away, like the Taviani brothers on a trip, some of his homeland under his shoes. Switzerland as a non-place, as land “without history”, inevitably neutral, the country of the “pendulum cuckoo” mocked in The Third Man is the present-absent figure of Tanner’s cinema, the original statelessness that feeds poetically each of his films, the no man’s land and the absence of national character calling his opposite: the Utopia (etymologically: the absence of God) whose Tanner’s work draws a tender and precise map. Utopia of childhood always found, desires on the run, senses on the lookout. No program for Tanner’s characters outside this permanent vanishing line to win the right place.
‘Before being a filmmaker, Alain Tanner was a sailor. In the early fifties, the young man of twenty-one years left his native Switzerland to engage as a shipwright on cargo ships of the Navy of Genoa. In Les Hommes du port (1994), one of his rare documentaries, which is also a beautiful self-portrait, he looks back on his youthful years, this pre-cinema moment that gave him a taste for freighters and distant horizons. “Filmmaker Traveler”, “traveling cinema”: these are formulas that often come back when we mention the name of Alain Tanner. Many people do not know that this essential movement of his films – departure, flight, the taste of the open sea – originates in a lived experience. When others, in Paris – the future New Wave – learn cinema while watching Hitchcock or Hawks films, Tanner experiences the world on boats and discovers the poetry of Aimé Césaire to whom he will return tribute in The Return of Africa (1973). Alain Tanner is not a movie buff. This means that at home, cinema is not an end, but a means. Like the cargo ship. Moreover, his love of cinema will be born with the discovery of Rossellini and De Sica, Italian neorealism working on him as much as an experience of reality as an aesthetic shock. Alain Tanner’s cinema is first and foremost an ethics of the real, a way of rubbing against it, of attacking it. The filmmaker likes to say that cinema starts when “it resists a little”. To make a film, it will therefore record the resistances of the real, original material.
‘Twenty films compose the work of Alain Tanner who holds between two first names and two leaks, between Charles died or alive (1969) and Paul goes away (2003). In his first feature film, presented at the Semaine de la Critique at the Cannes Film Festival and which will emblematize the “new Swiss cinema” with a few others – notably Michel Soutter’s The Moon Between Teeth and Haschich – the main character, Charles Dée , decides to turn his back on his comfortable life and his status of boss sitting to venture into solitude populated by two Bohemians who welcome him to the countryside. As for the Paul of the last film, he is already gone when the fiction begins: it is a professor of semiology, ex-leftist whose absence will provoke the political and poetic effervescence of his seventeen orphaned pupils. Between the two films that delimit the work, a common point therefore: a flight, a withdrawal, a character who gives up his place, dislodges, to go elsewhere. However, this fiction of withdrawal found in other films could well define the political value of Tanner’s film; never affirmative, nor declamatory, the Tannerian policy asserts itself by default, on the edges. It’s a mild subversion that gnaws the system on its margins. To human rights already listed, the Swiss filmmaker could add, like Rousseau, the right to withdraw, on tiptoe. No militant fanfare at home, no thunderous denunciation, but a slight headache and pirouettes to destabilize the enemy. Child’s play. In The Middle of the World , there is a very simple plan that sets the political nature of its cinema: in their car, two local politicians exchanged a joke about the love story that tells the film. The next image, an overall plan shows us their car leaving the road and entering a tree. The enemy is evacuated, without drama or conflict. We will not hear any more about these two.
‘In the white city, perhaps his most beautiful film, brings to its paroxysm this desire to escape: a sailor – Bruno Ganz – renounces his social life and stops in Lisbon for an indefinite period. As the narrative progresses, the character will relinquish his identity and become a “man without quality”, “subject to everything, open, listening”, a motionless traveler who lets him all the real for his to lose, to blend in. His wife, to whom he sends news in the form of super-8 films shot in Lisbon, finds, like us, his metamorphosis: the sailor becomes mineralized, becomes the stone of old Lisbon, the rhythm of a tramway, the wind blowing curtains from his hotel room. If the film so marked the audience at the time, it was because he was staring at a sensitive and sensual slope of Tanner’s cinema that the post-68 years had tended to erase. Indeed, for many, the director of La Salamandre and Jonas who turned 25 in the year 2000 was the bitter-sweet dealer of the utopias of 1968, the Tanner style asserting itself in a mixture of lightness and gravity around major themes of these political years: work, power, relationships between men and women. However, this “generational” perception of his cinema, besides forgetting the slightly desperate dimension that Tanner has always maintained with the militant scene of the sixties, misses the point: it is first and foremost a filmmaker of matter and desire, not speeches and ideas. The mute sailor from Lisbon is close to Charles Dée or Rosemonde, magnificent Bulle Ogier in La Salamandre . The last shot of the film that shows her in the street, smiling, announces the wanderings of Bruno Ganz: the logic of the sensation, the conquered freedom, the aesthetic and political line of Tanner’s entire cinema.’ — Frédéric Bas
Alain Tanner @ IMDb
A Formerly Forgotten Filmmaker, Tailor-Made for the Age of Trump
Rediscovering Alain Tanner
In Alain Tanner and John Berger’s Films, a Revolutionary Spirit Lives On
John Berger and Alain Tanner’s Films About Life After Political Failure
LE VOYAGEUR IMMOBILE
Alain Tanner @ Ciné-club
Un cinéaste au fond des yeux #80 : Alain Tanner
Subtle Subversion: The Films of Alain Tanner
La numérisation des films d’Alain Tanner s’organise
Lisbonne entre lieu et fiction, une lecture géographique de la Ville blanche d’Alain Tanner
Revisioning Europe: The Films of John Berger and Alain Tanner
Alain Tanner: ses années de télévision
Le cinéma d’Alain Tanner, un jeune homme en colère
Alain Tanner, les souvenirs et les adieux
Nice Time (1957, Alain Tanner & Claude Goretta)
Festival Cannes, interview d’Alain Tanner
Compression La Salamandre d’Alain Tanner (2014) de Gérard Courant
Alain Tanner, in your forty years of career, “Requiem” is only your second novel adaptation. What was the trigger this time?
– Alain Tanner: The desire to make the film is first born of our friendship. To be a filmmaker is to transform matter through the eyes. For “Requiem”, I hope to have found a filmic writing that is not totally foreign to the world of Antonio Tabucchi.
Antonio Tabucchi, you said that the film did not betray the book enough …
– Antonio Tabucchi: It was a joke. To betray, not to betray … Between us three, it is more about complicity, common spirit, confidence.
– Bernard Comment: Even if he does not say it here, Antonio Tabucchi has slipped into “Requiem” very personal, very intimate elements. We had to work very carefully. Alain Tanner and I intervened in the story by distilling a micro-imaginary.
“Requiem” is the fifth of your novels to be adapted to the screen. Is it a violence to see his characters embodied by actors?
– A. Tabucchi: When you write a story, the protagonist always looks like you. See on screen this character played by a comedian, with his face, his body, it freed me from myself. We are always a little prisoner of his universe. The cinema is like a door that opens and lets out a part of my inner world.
Alain Tanner, “Requiem” brings you back to Lisbon where you shot sixteen years ago “In the White City”. What does the capital of the Tagus River represent in your imagination?
– A. Tanner: I like all the major ports of the south and especially Lisbon. I find there correspondences with my temperament, my tendency to daydream and melancholy. I feel that in Genoa too, less in Marseille.
In “Requiem” the narrator declares: “Portugal is inscribed in my genetic inheritance.” Is not it you, Antonio Tabucchi, that you express in these words?
– A. Tabucchi: I adopted Portugal and Portugal adopted me. My links with this country are not only cultural and literary. There is first of all the life, the friendships, the family that binds me there.
You wrote this novel directly in Portuguese. What did you bring this first experience?
– A. Tabucchi: I experienced it as a journey through my past. I could not translate myself into Italian. Beckett was able to write in French and translate into English. I admire the mastery of this linguistic schizophrenia. I made the crossing to the other shore of my soul. But I was unable to make the opposite trip.
“Requiem” is entirely inhabited by Fernando Pessoa’s filigree presence. Why did this poet become so important in your life?
– A. Tabucchi: I discovered it in the early sixties when I was a student in Paris. The work of Pessoa belongs closely to the twentieth century. The anxiety, the intranquility, the relationship to the other … The Pessoian themes are a summary of the literature of this century.
Alain Tanner, over the years, you name Paul your main characters. Are they your double multiforms?
– A. Tanner: I do it every time the character is a little my spokesperson. In “Requiem”, the narrator is no stranger to me. I could live, like him, a hallucinated day in Lisbon.
“Requiem” is also a ghost story. What relationship do you have with the specters, Antonio Tabucchi?
– A. Tabucchi: Writing belongs to a floating world, far from reality. For me, the ghosts of “Requiem” are an evocation of my imagination.
B. Comment: Antonio Tabucchi has a ghostly relationship to his literary universe. He is truly visited by his characters. He opens their door, listens to them. Alain Tanner translated this into the film by making the ghosts appear on the screen before the narrator sees them.
14 of Alain Tanner’s 28 films
Le pouvoir dans la rue (1968)
‘This report produced by Alain Tanner in May 68 for the RTS gives to review the images of the movements of protest against the power, initiated by the students and followed by the striking workers at Renault. The “Swiss” look of a filmmaker at the heart of the action illuminates the events with, among others, interviews with Michel Bosquet journalist at Nouvel Observateur , striking workers, professors, students and Jacques Sauvageot , secretary General of the National Union of Students of France.’ — Films & Documentaires
Alain Tanner présente Le pouvoir dans la rue
Docteur B., médecin de campagne (1968)
‘In 1968, Alain Tanner filmed the daily life of a country doctor, Dr. Bugnon, father of five children. With tact, he exposes the reality of a community in the countryside in which the role of the doctor is essential. For this documentary, the director had chosen a real country doctor, Dr. Bugnon, father of five children, exhausted from work. Busy 18 hours a day, Dr. B. did not sleep, did not think, did not see any more friends. To the point of sinking into depression.’ — TéléObs
the entire film
Charles, Dead or Alive (1969)
‘On the 100th anniversary of the founding of a watchmaking company in Geneva, Charles Dé the founder’s 50-year-old grandson has had it: he speaks eccentrically to a reporter, recognizing his grandfather as a craftsman and his son as a businessman, but is evasive about himself. He gives his family the slip and moves in with a young couple he meets by chance, doing the cooking, reading, drinking, and engaging in philosophical discussions with them. The young couple comes to love Charles. In secret, he stays in touch with a daughter, and the rest of the family hires a private investigator to find him, setting in motion a business take-over that threatens his Bohemian happiness.’ — letterboxd
The Salamander (1971)
‘La Salamandre is a witty, shaggy, freewheeling tale of two Swiss writers—droll, lanky journalist Pierre (Jean-Luc Bideau), and struggling novelist Paul (likeable Jacques Denis)—who get hired to write a script about a lovely factory worker, Rosemonde (Bulle Ogier), who may or may not have shot her uncle. Their project is going fine in a mansplaining sort of way until these not-unlikable male intellectuals meet their subject in the flesh (in more ways than one) and discover that the ideas they’ve had about her can’t begin to comprehend the woman herself. Sensual, messy, and deeply rebellious against what she finds meaningless work—at a shoe store, she fondles the thighs of her male and female customers!—Rosemonde is a figure of uninterpretable vitality who instinctively rages against a capitalist society that expects her to be a machine.’ — John Powers, Vogue
Le Milieu du monde (1974)
‘Paul is married, a successful engineer, and a conservative candidate in an upcoming local election. He falls in love with Adriana, a café waitress from Italy. Paul’s party is very critical of foreign labour and wants to keep Switzerland to the Swiss. Where Paul falls deeper and deeper into the relationship and is ready to leave his wife, Adriana feels the social pressure growing and has to make her own decision.’ — Markku Kuoppamäki
Moulin Orbe Milieu Monde 1974 2014
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976)
‘Renoir, Godard and Gauloises: eight “little prophets” in their early-to-mid-thirties live past 1968 in Alain Tanner and John Berger’s heartbreakingly hopeful and tender romance of the earth and the wondrous humans thereupon. When I was discovering films as a child in college, the witty, hearteningly earnest “Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000” (Jonas qui aura 25 ans en l’an 2000) from Swiss director Alain Tanner and British artist John Berger landed in the middle of a world of possibility, radical yet down home, with an offhanded sophistication that appeared to be just the thing, far, far from didacticism, as it assembled politically inflamed yet gently mortal roundelay of romance, hope and fear.’ — Ray Pride
‘Two Swiss girls around twenty, one a history student and the other a store clerk, meet while hitch-hiking. Out of a whim and with nothing better to do, they decide to go on hitch-hiking together around Switzerland as long as they feel like it. After a couple of days, their money is spent in restaurants and cheap hotels, so they continue their tour by sleeping in cattle sheds and asking for money and accommodation from people. An unexpected discovery, a gun found in a car’s glove compartment, gradually turns their methods somewhat more dramatic.’ — UNIFRANCE
Light Years Away (1981)
‘Tanner’s first English-language work finds the director trading his native Switzerland for the windswept beauty of Ireland, and constitutes a kind of homecoming for this auteur who began his career at the British Film Institute, inspired by the Free Cinema Movement. In the year 2000, a young drifter (Mick Ford) befriends an old recluse (Trevor Howard), and together they move through a natural world that grows stranger by the day. “I looked for a setting at the end of the world,” recalled Tanner. “I went to Ireland and was seduced.” The end-of-the-world setting may be light years away from the dull claustrophobia of Switzerland, but Tanner’s focus remains the same, that of individuals who refuse the normal world order, and instead learn from—and lean on—one another. Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes and a surprisingly mystical, almost otherworldly film, Light Years “demonstrates Tanner’s amazing willingness to test his own limits as an artist” (Richard Peña).’ — Jason Sanders
In the White City (1983)
‘Bruno Ganz, that great loner of modernist cinema, here plays a Swiss seaman who jumps ship in Lisbon, gets involved with a barmaid, and sends reels of home movies back to his wife. Adrift in the exotic White City, he is robbed and then stabbed, loses the barmaid after a passionate fling, and finally hitting rock bottom he raises the fare home. The home movies, accompanied by Jean-Luc Barbier’s beautiful, hard-edged jazz score, terrifyingly reflect the disintegration of a man in flight from himself. But this is no idling tract on alienation, more an intrigue built around silences, blankness, deceptions of space and time. A teasingly simple film that compels and stimulates.’ — Time Out (London)
Une flamme dans mon coeur (1987)
‘Myriam Mézières, who would appear in several of Tanner’s films, here continues the director’s legacy of flawed, fascinating, feral women which runs from La Salamandre to Messidor. Mézières herself wrote the role of Mercedes, an actress whose odyssey of erotic obsession is captured in graphic detail on gritty black-and-white 16mm, a bracing back-to-basics production which showed that the by-then well-established Tanner wasn’t afraid to rip it up and start again.’ — Metrograph
L’homme qui a perdu son ombre (1991)
‘An old Andalusian communist back home after a long exile in France, Antonio, provides shelter for Paul, who turned to him for help after getting himself sacked by the newspaper he was working for. According to Antonio, Paul is someone who believes everything can be set right – what goes on in the mind and in real life with other people. Paul embarks on a journey of the mind, but life catches up with him. Or rather, women catch up with him: Anne, his present partner, and Marie, an earlier one, are on his trail. Farce or tragedy? Neither, says Paul: there’s no need for anyone to get killed in this story. But it does end with a death. When Antonio disappears, he takes with him a whole historical era, that of social utopias. Paul has lost his shadow, but not the way Antonio thought: Antonio himself was Paul’s shadow.’ — leffest films
‘A large private television channel has just been established in Switzerland. A communications company is given the task of drawing up concepts for programmes and decides to buy the rights for the stories of various criminals from which to produce films. Rosemonde decides to sell her story. Eight years ago, she killed a man who tried to violate her. As there were no witnesses, the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. Kevin, a film producer, charges Paul, a young writer, with the task of writing the scenario relating Rosemonde’s life at the time. However, she appears to be incapable of recalling her past and clams up when Paul approaches her with the questions he needs to ask her. Marie, a young actress, is then asked to visit Rosemonde and in exchange is promised the role in the film if she can make her talk. The film relates the strange relationship between the two women who begin to develop a friendship …’ — Swiss Films
‘« It is a ballad, both serious and light-hearted, that takes place in a world which may be foreign to me, but which I fell in love with as one sometimes falls in love with a « world apart » which brings one out of oneself. » Paul, the narrator, has an appointment one hot Sunday in summer with a guest who is none other than the ghost of the great Portuguese writer, Fernando Pessoa. He comes to Lisbon at noon, but then realizes that ghosts usually make their appointments at midnight. Between noon and midnight, through a series of chance happenings and while retracing his past, Paul meets a whole series of characters, a curious mixture of people from present-day Lisbon and ghosts from the past, the living and the dead crossing paths at the same moment in time, a decompartmentalized time. Until his final meeting with Pessoa, Paul crosses paths with restaurants owners, the madam of a brothel, a tramp, a cemetery caretaker, a taxi driver, an old gypsy woman, etc… all of whom are firmly anchored in a segment of Lisbon culture that is slowly fading away. Among all these people, and with no apparent difference from them, parade another group of people, dead souls who return after many years, such as Paul’s friend Pierre, his long dead-father, and Isabel, who had been both Paul’s and Pierre’s mistress. Running through the story like a thread is the spirit of Pessoa and a powerful feeling of melancholy and remorse.’ — Cannes Film Festival
Fleurs de sang (2002)
‘In custody after she murders her middle aged photographer lover, a fourteen year old Pam reflects back on the bohemian life she spent with her mother Lily, a free spirited cabaret performer. Lily tried to elevate her stripper performances from the level of erotic spectacle to artistic expression as she dragged her young daughter from nightclub to nightclub and hotel to hotel, but ultimately lost her at nine to the Paris child authorities.’ — Harvard Film Archive
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Well, not having seen the Nico piece, I don’t feel ready to determine what it is. And I know from personal experience that interviewers have angles in mind and often set out to frame the artist they’re interviewing or the work under discussion in a neat way, sometimes overly neatly and reductively. So I guess I’m just open-minded at this point as to what the show is and how Nico serves or doesn’t serve it and vice versa. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Really nice and astute about the E-Saggila track. I’ll go luxuriate in the Go Mental track pronto. Thanks, Ben. ** Steve Erickson, I’m happy that some of the tracks pulled you in. Yes, I agree that the Lignua Ignota album is very interesting. That Guardian piece really was dreadful, I agree. I read a couple of other things yesterday that had a tenable over-eagerness to use his new film as the trigger to bring out long-sharpened knives. And I’m most curious to read your take on the film, and read the other interview too. Everyone, Steve Erickson weighs in on the new Tarantino here, and here he interviews with IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS & ANGELS ARE MADE OF LIGHT director James Longley. ** Shane Christmass, Good, I’ll definitely pick up that book then. Yeah, Strange Attractor, a very good press, right? Oh, wow, I’ll check my email. It’s absolutely boiling here, and I’m half-slug at the moment. ** schlix, Hi, Uli. I’m really glad you liked the gig. That’s really great to hear. Yes, I downloaded the Nivhek album just other other day, and I’m very into it too. It was definitely very cool to be in Kluge’s presence and to be the recipient of his thinking/talking, even if I was lucky to discern fragments. He’s so alert and sharp. I’m a giant fan of his films, and of his writings too. I’m very glad I went. Are you getting this heat too? It’s murder, and it’s not even close to peaking yet. No joke: it’s hell outside (and inside). If you’re similarly beset, good luck sneaking through it. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff! My pleasure, of course, and thank about the gig. And the ‘Fireworks’ post too. Beautiful book. Impossible to get now. Zac has it. Glad you managed to beat your heat. No escape here from ours, or only brief ones. Very cool about the new short fiction piece. Doubt it’s avoidance. If you’re excited it never is. And congrats on the latest Julien Calendar gig’s satisfaction level. Best of luck with the band + audience combo tonight. Yeah, our friend/star Kerstin’s death has been rough, and it happening so close to Kevin Killian’s eerily similar death doesn’t make it any easier. I just talked to Gisele yesterday for the first time since she called to say Kerstin had died. She was there arranging the funeral and is now understandably hiding out from everything in Austria. Anyway, I’m happy to say that the TV project is still on and still a go. Recasting Kerstin is going to be immensely difficult, but we’re going to find a way, so I’m very relieved that the project will continue and that the years of work was not for nothing because I was very concerned that Gisele would cancel it. So, a vast amount new to do, but we’re still on. Very happy to catch up via Skype. I’m around. Let me now when’s good for you. ** Misanthrope, There is a place for subtle porn stars as long as they’re leaky. Emotionally leaky, not … you know. Or not only ‘you know’ rather. Pass on the doctor’s news, and try not to worry, duh, not that you are. Figured LPS still has one foot on the road to ruin, so yeah. ** Bill, The new Pere Ubu is really nice. Kind of a lot more pop than they’ve been in ages, but strange enough. And naturally you get a gold star for liking the Pollard track. That’s for sure about ‘Forbidden Zone’. Ah, the innocent days before Danny Elfman tortured the world with Oingo Boingo. ** Okay. I think it was writer/d.l. KK who brought up the relatively recently forgotten-ish Alain Tanner recently and inspired me to gather his works together in a post and see what happens. Lest I die of heat stroke in the meantime, see you tomorrow.