Excerpts from Mr. Ebert’s review:
Tavernier never urges his story upon us, and has no great plot to unwind. He simply wants to observe his characters during the course of a long day during which we find _______. To find comparable attention to the subtle forces within a family, you would have to turn to Yasujiro Ozu, who made almost all of his films about Japanese families. The Japanese term “mono no aware,” which suggests a bittersweet awareness of the beauty of life and the inevitability of death, applies to Ozu, and here to Tavernier.
“We fear death...because we love life.” – L’Argent
“A Sunday in the Country” has a haunting, sweet, sad quality. It is about this family, and many families. It is told by Tavernier with great attention to detail, and the details add up to the way life is. There are three startling moments when reality is broken. In one, we see Gonzague, Marie-Therese and the housekeeper looking down at the dead body of Ladmiral, impeccably dressed, laid as if sleeping on his bed. In another, Irene sees her dead mother, who tells her, “Will you stop asking so much of life, Irene?” In the third, Irene hugs her niece and intuits that she will die young, perhaps by 15. These scenes are not supernatural, but are realizations of the kinds of thoughts, memories and fears we all have when we are around our families.
Tavernier, born in 1941, is one of the most gifted and skilled of French directors, the leader of the generation after the New Wave. He worked as a critic and a publicist (for Godard and Chabrol) before making his first film, “The Clockmaker,” in 1974. The screenplay was by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, one of the most famous screenwriting teams of the postwar years. They represented the school which the auteurist critics scornfully dismissed as “quality” and intended the New Wave to wash away. But Tavernier valued their work, and “Sunday in the Country” is based on a novel, Monsieur Ladmiral Is Going to Die Soon, by Bost. There is another connection: Tavernier’s “Safe Conduct” (2003), about the French filmmakers who continued to work during the Nazi Occupation, uses Aurenche as a starring character.
Tavernier is a man who loves movies, and is often associated with revivals and restorations of neglected classics. At the Telluride Film Festival and elsewhere, he presents his discoveries with enthusiasm that contains no hint of competitiveness; one feels he would as soon introduce a film he loves as one of his own. He is enormously prolific (29 films since 1974).
He does not have a signature subject or style, but ranges widely; his work includes “Coup de Torchon” (1981), which improbably transplants a Jim Thompson novel to French Africa; “Round Midnight” (1986), the story of the tenor sax player Dexter Gordon; “A Week’s Vacation” (1980), with its great performance by Nathalie Baye as a schoolteacher who in a week away from work profoundly rediscovers her life; “Daddy Nostalgie” (1990), Dirk Bogarde’s last performance, as a dying man reconciling with his daughter; and “L.627” (1992), which records the routines and futility of Parisian narcotics cops.
And there are many more. His work is an abundance of invention and generosity, and in a way the opposite of the auteur theory that he once supported, since Tavernier never forces himself or a style upon us.
If there is a common element in his work, it is his instant sympathy for his fellow humans, his enthusiasm for their triumphs, his sharing of their disappointments. To see the work of some directors is to feel closer to them. To see Tavernier’s work is to feel closer to life.