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A Bridge to Tavernier

16 Aug 2021

One of the great joys of an event like the Chichester International Film Festival is finding classics of the past you remember and films you have missed, and so my 29th festival started in earnest with Bridge on the River Kwai from 1957.

I was looking forward to seeing it on the big screen at last as I had only seen it on television before. As the film wore on I realised that I had never seen it all the way through, having caught bits and pieces, and discussions about the film. It is one of those films that if you are interested in cinema you know all about by osmosis, as much as anything. The director, David Lean, knew what he was doing with an epic on this scale, and the performances were, of course, immaculate. Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins et al were on top form. And, as the main reason for showing the film was that the music was by Sir Malcolm Arnold, ahead of the documentary about the composer, I paid particular attention to that. The military flourishes in the music set against the insanity of the war and the attitudes to it become almost ironic in that setting, and the swirling orchestral pieces are as wide and dramatic as the screen and the countryside on it. The digitally-restored print looked wonderful too, and it was a great way to kick off my film viewing at the festival.

The day before, my colleague from the education team and fellow podcaster Patrick Hargood and I discussed the films of Bertrand Tavernier in a talk to accompany the festival tribute to the great director who died earlier this year. I had seen three of his films before we started our research – all of which I loved. Having taken in a whole load more, I am convinced of his greatness, and Patrick and I have been left wondering why he is not held in greater esteem as a director, and why his entire cinematic output is not available with English subtitles. We – actually Patrick – tracked down quite a few, but many are either not available or only at crazy prices.

I can’t recommend more highly the Tavernier films being shown at the festival, and I hope that one day we will be able to watch and enjoy some of the films we cannot currently access. I once attended a screening of one of his films at the (then) National Film Theatre, which included a live interview with him. He was such engaging company that I immediately wanted to go out to dinner with him and talk films, politics and life generally. He seemed such a good bloke and his eclectic choice of subject matter from 1974 to relatively recently is well worth getting to know. I think I have developed from a fan to a true fanatic about the works of Bertrand Tavernier. I feel almost evangelical.

Sandy Guthrie, from the Chichester CineFile Podcast