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Bertrand Tavernier was obsessed with movies. He wrote two books on American film, directed a more than three-hour documentary on French cinema, won best director at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for an Oscar. Best known in this country for his jazz film "Round Midnight," Tavernier directed some 40 features and documentaries. Bertrand Tavernier died Thursday at the age of 79. Howie Movshovitz of member station KUNC has this remembrance.
HOWIE MOVSHOVITZ, BYLINE: Joan Dupont knew Bertrand Tavernier for many years. The Paris-based film journalist says Tavernier reveled in the cinema - all of it.
JOAN DUPONT: He's a very astonishing filmmaker because he jumps from one genre to another. You never know where you're going to find him next.
MOVSHOVITZ: He made historical dramas like "Capitaine Conan," set in World War One.
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MOVSHOVITZ: "The Clockmaker Of St. Paul" tells the story of a man in the 1970s whose son murders a factory owner.
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MOVSHOVITZ: And the film that reached his widest U.S. audience, "Round Midnight," is about a Frenchman's love for American jazz.
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MOVSHOVITZ: Tavernier also filmed documentaries about the Algerian War for independence, undocumented immigrants in France and blues singers in America's Mississippi Delta. In all of them, he wanted to build off the potent American influence in the movies but make French films, as he told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1996.
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BERTRAND TAVERNIER: In the best American films, you feel the time, and you feel the period. You feel the space. I felt that my film had to be rooted in a French context, in a French culture. They are to speak about France. I felt that I had to live with my country.
MOVSHOVITZ: Tavernier first started making movies in 1964. His breakthrough in this country came 20 years later with "Sunday In The Country," about an aging painter and his adult children.
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MOVSHOVITZ: Tavernier was younger than the major filmmakers of the French new wave, though he was once an assistant to Jean-Luc Godard. But he differed from Godard and others in a crucial attitude, says writer Joan Dupont.
DUPONT: He said to me that they never show you really working-class people. I think what he meant was they don't show you people people. They show you special people. And I find him extremely touching in his passion and his sensitivity to what he's lived, his perception of others - because he moves, and he observes.
MOVSHOVITZ: Though he made a number of historical dramas, Tavernier refused to treat the past as a museum. His 2010 movie, "The Princess Of Montpensier," is about a very young bride in the 16th century during the ferocious religious wars between Catholics and Protestants.
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TAVERNIER: Unless I'm completely wrong, I have the impression that the killing in the name of religions is still something which happens today, no? It seems to me that the treatment of women is still something we are speaking about a lot, no?
MOVSHOVITZ: That's Bertrand Tavernier in 2010. Five years later, he told me he first fell in love with cinema when he was a child with tuberculosis. The sanitarium staff showed movies to patients, and he says film saved his life then and also in 2015 as he lay in a hospital bed after cancer surgery, editing "My Journey Through French Cinema," his more than three-hour tribute to the great French filmmakers who preceded him.
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TAVERNIER: They enlightened in my life. They made me reach more passionate, more curious. When I was very young, I was sick, and the cinema was something - it gave me dreams. It gave me passion. And I think I survived because of the cinema. It gave me hope.
MOVSHOVITZ: For NPR News, I'm Howie Movshovitz.
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