In anticipation of Andre Techine's newest film, Being 17 (opening this week), here's an introduction to the French cineaste who may be the best gay filmmaker alive--certainly the greatest that mainstream media doesn't know. That's because gay filmmakers get celebrated according to the size of their promotional budgets. But Techine, who authentically portray gay experience, doesn't need hype. His deeply pleasurable movies mean he is the hype.
Techine's characters--male, female, young, old--all fall into difficult love or sex relationships, struggling to understand themselves within shifting social units. Techine covers all gay experience and his nimble, passionate filmmaking holds up over decades of shifting fashions and topical issues. Here's a four-part syllabus:
Politics and Ethnicity:
Les Innocents (1987) explored diversity before it became a thing. France's political and erotic tension ever since its occupation of Algerian recurs in all his films, particularly Far (Loin, 2001).
The Heterosexual Matrix:
Techine addresses the spectrum of sexuality in the male-female romances of Barocco (1976), Rendez-vous (1985), Alice and Martin (1998), Strayed (2003). Each film pursues identity through the ways that fantasy, psychology, creative initiative and history intersect. Life, viewed with gay consciousness, furthering the Visconti, Cocteau, Demy, Fassbinder tradition.
The Deneuve Psyche:
Catherine Deneuve, France's glamorous grande dame, is Techine's muse. But she is more than a fag hag. In My Favorite Season (1993), The Girl on the Train (2009), In the Name of My Daughter (2014), Changing Times (2004). Scene of the Crime (1987), and Hotel des Amerique(1981), Big Cat magnifies social and personal desire like such larger-than-life gay icons from Dietrich to Garland, Monroe to Cher.
I Don't Kiss (J'embrasse Pas, 1991) - Pierre (Manuel Blanc) leaves the provinces to try acting, escorting, and discovering himself in Paris.
Unforgivable (Impardonnables, 2011) - Bisexual Judith (Carole Bouquet) begins an affair with Francis (Andre Dussollier) whose promiscuous daughter unbalances the middle-aged couple's stability.
The Bronte Sisters (1979) - An experimental bio-pic exploring the interwoven emotional ties of the legendary literary family. A sumptuous costume drama with gorgeous stars: Isabelle Adjani as Emily, Isabelle Huppert as Anne, Marie-France Pisier as Charlotte; Pascal Greggory as their brother Branwell, and Roland Barthes (Techine's mentor) as Thackery.
Thieves (Les Voleurs, 1996) - Techine' transposes Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury onto a bisexual triangle between Deneuve, Daniel Auteuil, and Laurence Cote--a sensual, intellectual advance on Sunday, Bloody Sunday as Techine ingeniously splits time and memory.
French Provincial (Souvenirs d'en France, 1975) - A 75-year family epic told in 90 minutes. A patriarchy becomes a matriarchy headed by Jeanne Moreau, while each decade reflects the ongoing history of movie genres. This was Techine's American debut and his knowledge of high and low culture makes, perhaps, his most dazzling film.
The Witnesses (Les Temoins, 2007) - The AIDS-era as felt by survivors who recall Manu (Johann Libereau), a country boy who becomes a hustler; his affair with Medhi (Sami Bouajila) changes the lives of an interracial middle-class family.
Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux Sauvages, 1995) - Still the greatest of all coming-of-age films, Techine follows four teenagers caught-up in the tumult of rock-n-roll, movies, politics, and sexual discovery. Best friends Francois (Gael Morel) and Maite (Elodie Bouchez) are both attracted to Serge (Stephane Rideau), the working-class rival of bourgeois conservative Henri (Frederic Gorny). Raw emotion in nature and changing society seen with nostalgia and generosity of a great filmmaker's open-spirit.