Can I Get a Witness?
BY David Ehrenstein
February 01 2008 1:00 AM ET
André Téchiné has been a name to contend
with in world cinema ever since the mid '70s.
That's when his satirical comedy French
Provincial and his brooding thriller Barocco made
him a natural heir to France's "New Wave" tradition of
narrative romanticism mixed with stylistic innovation.
He's made a number of striking films since then,
particularly those starring his favorite leading lady,
Catherine Deneuve (Scene of the Crime, My Favorite
Season, and Thieves are standouts), but he
won the hearts of LGBT moviegoers world wide in 1994
with Wild Reeds -- a coming-of-age and
coming-out story of matchless sensitivity and insight.
With his latest film, The Witnesses,
Téchiné has made his most ambitious work to
date. A drama about the very early days of the AIDS
epidemic, The Witnesses details how the crisis
affected a group of French people: dedicated doctor
Adrien (Michel Blanc), children's book author Sarah
(Emmanuelle Béart), and her vice cop husband, Mehdi
(Sami Bouajila), all of whom come under the spell of a
vivacious young drifter named Manu (Johan
Adrien, who is gay, falls madly in love with Manu. But Manu
only has eyes for Mehdi -- whose wife isn't at all
jealous. The real snake in this demiparadise is AIDS.
Manu contracts HIV and with it all the infections that
were common in the epidemic's early days. Trying his best to
save him, Adrien must deal not only with his
personal passions but a disease about which there's
little understanding and no cure. Speaking from his
home in Paris, Téchiné (who turns 64 this March)
explained why this story has a very special resonance
for him as both an artist and a gay man.
In the press notes provided for the film you're
quoted saying about the epidemic, "I feel I have escaped
Yes, I do. A number of friends very, very close to me
vanished. They were killed by the epidemic. They were
suddenly just gone. I didn't die, and began to get the
impression that I escaped some kind of collective
destiny that our community seemed to have. The film is about
relationships that are very personal and intimate and at the
same time collective. That's what I find interesting
about this subject. It's a generational trauma as well
as a personal trauma.
There have been many films about the epidemic over
Less than there have been about Vietnam. It's not a war
that's often represented on the screen -- at least not
in France. And it is a war. There are a few films, of
course. But I think it's very important to put this
historical trauma on the screen, and in many different forms
-- dramatic, comedic, even musical. Look at World War
II. There was Chaplin's The Great Dictator, and
later there was Cabaret. But at the same time,
with AIDS, I think it's important to present this as a
form of spectacle, as a drama, and not treat this
history as if it didn't exist. It's the worst possible
thing to forget about of this.