Ballad of the sad old men

After the evocative delights of Sunday in the Country and ’Round Midnight, French director Bertrand Tavernier descends into the vale of years once more with is latest offering, These Foolish Things. He talks to Trevor Johnston about tempting Dirk Bogarde out of retirement and teasing Dexter Gordon onto the set.

‘A sequence of moments in which life truly resembles life'. is director Bertrand Tavernier‘s own rather poetic evaluation of the latest chapter in an increasingly wise and resonant filmography. Premiered at last year's Cannes under its original French title. Daddy Nostalgie. to much acclaim but (a mite scandalously) no prizes. These Foolish Things brings Dirk Bogarde back to the cinema screen after a self-imposed absence ofsome years as the tetchy. terminally ill father ofconcerned but rather distant daughter Jane Birkin. Indeed. both actors contribute what‘s probably the best work of widely differing careers as their opposing characters move towards what Tavernier terms. ‘one of those precious moments in life where two people really talk to each other’.

‘Bogarde heard about the script and actually rang me up.‘ recalls Tavernier. an amiable bear of a man whose often moving output includes the moody. post-World War I excavation of Life and Nothing But ( 1989) and Sunday in the ('ountry. a study ofan ageing artist. which took the Best Director award at Cannes in 1984. “I would like to do it as my last film." he said. and you know he came before the camera completely open. naked in a way. When he did The Damned with Visconti or Despair with Fassbinder. he played against his former matinee image and here he wanted to show the selfishness. the isolation of this man. My father was dying during the making of the film and it seemed to become difficult for us all. but in the dialogue he wrote for himselfl think Dirk reveals an aspect ofhimself he'd been hiding. He gave me wonderful lines about pain and loneliness. Beautiful lines. wonderful.‘

Adeptly switching from French into English to keep his caring Gallic wife. played by Odette Laure (more regularly glimpsed on the Paris stage) at bay. Bogarde's edgy. deeply affecting performance conveys the physical discomfort ofa

man going the full fifteen rounds with cancer.

\NV\\\\\\\\\\\\\ .

Beneath his character‘s bitter. hesitant exterior. Bogarde makes plain the anguish of realising he‘s let his whole life flow by without every showing his love for his estranged scriptwriter daughter. An absolute revelation in the role. Jane Birkin carefully marks out the gains and losses of finally

coming to know a parent who‘s seemed so far away

for so long.

These Foolish Things builds a cumulative impact from the melancholy rememberance of a past strewn with regrets. but ’l'avernier‘s perceptive feel for the contour ofthe moment means that it edges around slushy sentiment. He himself puts it down to the atmosphere he tries to create on set where. he says. ‘you want the people to surprise you/ It‘s not about explaining every word on the page. I want to be astonished.‘

Certainly. this attitude ofeneouragement paid dividends in the case of 'Round Midnight. where veteran saxman Dexter Gordon turned in a miraculous evocation ofa bebop life‘s flickering last chorus. but such screen magic did not apparently come easily. ‘The biggest problem.‘ Tavernier adds with an ironic grin. ‘was actually in getting Dexter from the trailer to the set. It took him halfan hour. It took him an hour to dress. a hour to eat breakfast. So while his two assistants


Dirk Bogarde and Jane Birkin in These Foolish Things

were cajoling him along. I always had to have

some shots I could do in the meantime. Having l said that though. when we were rehearsing. his suggestions were always quite superb. Like Dirk. he brought in some ofthe best lines in the movie.‘

Not without its problems and deeply unfashionable though it might be. Tavernier is firm on why so many of his films take on old age as their subject. ‘It's good to admire.‘ he says. and throughout his career Tavernier has been lucky enough to meet up with many ofthe cinema‘s old masters. Before graduating to behind the camera. the Frenchman spent much of the 60s in Paris as a top press agent looking after many ofthe top visiting American directors. and These Foolish Things is dedicated to the memory of his friendship with the late Michael Powell. arguably the real giant of the British screen. ‘I think we live in a society where we are trying to conceal the wisdom that you get from having a few years behind you. so for me it's no good doing films about teenagers. liven if it goes in the opposite direction to the cultural mainstream. you must always be against something.‘

These Foolish Things (/5) plays lidinlmrgh

Filmhouse from Fri 1 7 May.



The List 17— 30 May 199131