Iconic French film director Bertrand Tavernier dies at 79
French director Bertrand Tavernier, who has died aged 79, was the conscience of French cinema, unafraid to lose friends when he turned on the political left late in life.
The son of a French resistance fighter, Tavernier won fans and international fame with his unique mix of classy period pieces and campaigning contemporary dramas.
His themes of injustice, racism and the sapping curse of unemployment brought comparisons with Britain's Ken Loach even if stylistically he had more in common with Hollywood greats like John Ford.
Both in front of the camera and behind it Tavernier fought tirelessly against censorship, torture during the Algerian war of independence, for migrants' rights and for the defence of European cinema against Hollywood.
But he was equally unapologetic about voting in 2007 for right-wing French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who as interior minister had abolished a law under which jailed immigrants could be deported even if they had dependents in France.
Sarkozy was moved to act after seeing a Tavernier documentary on the subject.
The director said he had unsuccessfully lobbied the previous "cowardly" Socialist government on the issue.
"Sarkozy owes his popularity to the uselessness of the left," Tavernier later declared.
Prematurely white-haired, Tavernier was by then an elder statesman of French cinema but just as driven and prolific as he had been 20 years before, railing against injustice in documentaries between bigger budget features.
He had won a BAFTA in 1990 for "Life and Nothing But", his searing drama about the search to identify corpses left on the battlefields of World War I.
It is credited for reawakening cinema's interest in the conflict.
The film also won a Cesar, France's version of the Oscars, for best actor for Philippe Noiret, often Tavernier's partner in crime since "The Clockmaker" won the Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival in 1974.
By the time Tavernier won a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival in 2015, he had made more than 40 features across almost every genre and clocked up an Oscar nomination.
"Tavernier is a complete auteur, instinctively anti-conformist and courageously eclectic," said Alberto Barbera, director of the Venice festival.
Son of Resistance fighter
Tavernier was born during World War II in the southeastern city of Lyon. The city was already under the ruthless grip of Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie when he came blinking into the world on April 25, 1941.
His father, writer Rene Tavernier, was an early member of the Resistance and hid the communist poet Louis Aragon throughout the war.
The young Tavernier was sickly and discovered cinema during a stay in a sanatorium after he caught tuberculosis.
He moved to Paris to study law but soon found himself writing for film magazines and becoming an assistant to several directors, including New Wave master Jean-Luc Godard.
Such was his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema that "Thirty Years of American Cinema", which he co-authored in 1970, become a reference.
Indeed it was Hollywood's golden age that spurred him to make movies, saying watching cowboy films filled him with "physical pleasure".
Love of Westerns
"I became a director because of my admiration for westerns," he told AFP.
That love inspired his 2009 American film, "In the Electric Mist", starring Tommy Lee Jones and John Goodman in which he returned to his early passions: duels and horses.
"Suddenly I felt again what these directors must have felt when they filmed cavalcades and landscapes. It was like going back to my roots, to what I felt when I was 15.
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"I saw myself again discovering the fantastic sword fights in George Sidney's 'Scaramouche'," he added.
There was plenty of swords and horses in his hit romantic swashbuckler "The Princess of Montpensier" in 2011 starring Lambert Wilson and Melanie Thierry, a story of passion and rivalry set against the savage wars of religion that ripped France apart in the 16th century.
Then came the 2013 comedy "Quai d'Orsay", about life at the French foreign ministry in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002.
For many years Tavernier kept an open house with his screenwriter wife Colo O'Hagan. They still worked together even after divorcing and their daughter Tiffany, also a writer, continued the family tradition, working with her father on the film "Holy Lola" in 2004.
Israel’s fourth general election in two years has so far failed to break the country’s political impasse. But it has marked a break from Israeli politics as usual with the rise of Mansour Abbas, an Islamist Arab politician who could make or break Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid for a record sixth term in office.
Two years ago, when Mansour Abbas was elected to the Knesset, few Israelis knew much about the parliamentary newcomer who had just won a seat on a list that united four Israeli Arab parties.
If and when Abbas made the national news back in 2019, it was invariably in the company of his fellow Israeli Arab parliamentarians, his trimmed beard and open collared shirts marking him as an Islamist among secular politicians, the men in suits and ties, the women bareheaded.
But that was barely 24 months and political light years before Tuesday’s parliamentary elections in Israel.
The 46-year-old Islamist from the Israeli Arab political ranks is now being dubbed the “kingmaker”, who could make or break Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid for a record sixth term in office.
It was a common theme in post-election coverage, with headlines proclaiming, “Tight Israeli vote means Arab Islamist could choose next PM” and “Netanyahu short for right-wing coalition, would need Arab support”.
Tuesday’s election was widely viewed as a referendum on Netanyahu, since the Israeli leader stands trial on corruption charges that he has vehemently denied. But after four general elections in just two years, the verdict has not changed and Israel is still mired in a political deadlock.
But no matter what the future holds for Netanyahu in the post-election horse-trading season, the March 2021 election has seen a shakeup of Israeli politics as usual. After more than seven decades of democratic marginalisation, Israeli Arabs – the Palestinians who stayed on their land following Israel's creation in 1948 and constitute a fifth of the country’s population – have emerged as a political force.
In a country where the ideological left has collapsed, the change in the Israeli Arab political landscape has not come from its traditional progressive base, but from the conservative Islamist right.
This has led to the extraordinary scenario of a Palestinian Islamist politician having a possible say in the fate of a right-wing Jewish leader who has won elections in the past by using racist rhetoric and get-out-the vote scare tactics such as, “Arab voters are heading to polling stations in droves”.
“If there’s one politician who made a clear promise to his constituency, it’s Mansour Abbas. He said, 'We wish to be kingmakers' following the election and they are,” said Arik Rudnitzky, an expert on Arab-Israeli voting behaviour at the Israel Democracy Institute, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “Mansour Abbas has tried to introduce a new approach in Arab politics in Israel. He has made clear that he is ready to cooperate with any government to serve the interest of his constituency.”
With most of the votes counted in Tuesday’s election, Abbas’s United Arab List party – known by the Hebrew Raam – is on track to win five seats in Israel's 120-member Knesset. As an election-weary nation confronts another deadlock, the Raam seats could be decisive, especially since its high profile leader – unlike other Israeli Arab politicians in the past – has not ruled out joining an Israeli government.
“This is a fascinating shift in Israeli politics, having an Arab party perhaps playing a more assertive role,” said Israeli political commentator and analyst, Eylon Levy. “Mansour Abbas might be able to deliver Netanyahu or block him from government.”
In an interview with an Israeli radio station Wednesday, Abbas said his party was “prepared to engage" with Netanyahu's camp or his rivals. “We are not in anyone’s pocket, not on the Right and not on the Left,” he said.
That almost verbatim quote was the theme that shot Abbas into the Israeli headlines last year and has fueled his meteoric rise on the country’s political scene.
A joint Arab list to hold back Netanyahu
Abbas made national headlines last year, when he helped parliamentarians from Netanyahu’s Likud party quash an opposition attempt to initiate a parliamentary probe into the prime minister’s role in “the submarine affair” involving bribery allegations in Israel’s purchase of naval vessels from a German shipbuilder.
The Raam party leader has insisted he followed professional guidelines and rejected accusations that he was under political pressure during that incident. But his willingness to cross red lines in Israeli politics by voting to grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution and public offers to help prop up the right wing prime minister’s future government have put him firmly under the national spotlight.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post last year, Abbas noted that, “Most of the time, the Arab parties automatically are part of the Left, without considering key issues.” The approach was “mistaken” and required a repositioning, he explained. “We are not in the pockets of the Left or the Right. We need to act within the interests of the Arab society that chose us.”
At that time, the Raam party was on the Joint List, an alliance of mostly left Arab parties that united in opposition to the
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