Sunday Cinematheque at the Chazen: Alain Tanner


Among the last lions of the heroic age of the European art film, the Geneva born Tanner burst onto the international cinema scene at age forty with his debut feature, 1969’s Charles, Dead or Alive, completed after stints with the merchant navy and the British Film Institute, where he became charged with the unquiet spirit of the Free Cinema movement. Back home, the fired-up Tanner would forge a radical body of work that bristles at the numbing neutrality and status quo monotony of his native country, a cinema full of rebels, outcasts, and dropouts, where the presiding mood is one of driftlessness and anxious ambivalence, and a filmography ripe for the rediscovery. This touring series has been organized by UW Cinematheque & NYC’s Metrograph and is supported in part by the French House at UW Madison and the Embassy of Switzerland. Special thanks to Andrew Irving, Jake Perlin, and Marcel Müller. (M)


  • Sun., Mar. 18 | 2:00 PM

A group of eight stubbornly nonconformist Genevans from different walks of life get together on a rural retreat to dream of a world which offers more than consumerist inducements in this, another of Tanner’s string of ‘70s masterpieces. Co-written by Tanner and English writer John Berger, this redoubt for May 1968 ideals in the mid-‘70s is that rare explicitly political film that doesn’t reduce its characters to placeholders, a major work of postwar European cinema unforgivably out-of-print on domestic home video. (M)

  • Sun., Mar. 25 | 2:00 PM

In one of the great films of the 1970s, two journalists (Bideau and Denis), contracted to write a teleplay about an “accidental” gun death, find themselves drawn into perhaps too-intimate relationships with the surviving witness/suspect: an alluring, spontaneous working-class girl, Rosemonde (the always extraordinary Ogier), who alone knows the truth of what happened. As an iron will towards liberation lies behind Rosemonde’s fresh-faced prettiness, so a serious meditation on the pursuit of truth through fiction dwells behind the playful eroticism on the surface of Tanner’s film. (M)

  • Sun., Apr. 1 | 2:00 PM

Tanner’s coruscating debut introduces a figure who will recur throughout his body of work: the individual who, confronting an insupportable social reality, decides instead to launch himself into the unknown without a safety net. In this case, the insubordinate is Simon’s small factory owner, who, faced with perfect middle-class comfort and no end in sight, decides to detonate his cookie-cutter existence. No mere sloganeering radical, Tanner here already shows himself acutely aware of the emotional cost of resistance, drawing blood with his bold opening shot. (M)

  • Sun., Apr. 15 | 2:00 PM

After the glad-handing, married Swiss politician Paul (Léotard) falls for an emotionally-withdrawn Italian café waitress (Carlisi), his campaign goes into a subsequent tailspin. Tanner stages the fallout in strikingly stark, formal style, with Brechtian breaks including interstitial date-keeping cartoons, disjunctive landscape shots, and musical interludes by Patrick Moraz. Middle of the World is among Tanner’s most radical films in terms of form, and also among his angriest. (M)

  • Sun., Apr. 22 | 2:00 PM

A project taken over from Maurice Pialat, Messidor has as its basis a true story which was a sensation of 1970s France: a crime spree by two young girls and its terminal conclusion. Keenly interested as ever in drop-outs and exiles, Tanner tracks the flight of the fierce female fugitives through an Alpine Switzerland which has here taken on a heavy, sinister air, holding their own against masculine menace while on a winding road to nowhere. (M)

  • Sun., Apr. 29 | 2:00 PM

In a filmography filled with unreconciled rebels seeking solitude, few Tanner characters go so far in that direction as the enigmatic sailor Paul (Ganz), who leaves behind his life and his wife to jump ship in Lisbon and dissolve himself into the city. Tanner, master of experimental self-reinvention, here mixes sumptuous images of Paul’s nocturnal wandering with those of his cryptic Super-8 “letters” home, in the process creating a hypnotic, sensual vision of urban anomie. (M)

  • Sun., May. 6 | 2:00 PM

A film fairly brimming with a love of life and footloose freedom, this Dublin-set adaptation of Geneva writer Daniel Odier’s La Voie sauvage took the Grand Prix at Cannes. Young Jonas (Ford) becomes drawn to an elderly, typically Tanner-esque loner, Yoshka (Howard, excellent), who lives in a glum graveyard and jealously guards a secret which Jonas endeavors to learn. (M)