Alain Tanner Retro at Anthology
The debut feature film of Geneva-born director Alain Tanner, Charles, Dead or Alive (1969) sees a third-generation watch-factory owner calmly spill his ineffectual guts on a talk show, hole up in a grubby pension, then crash with a bohemian couple living near a giant gravel pile. "There's no flag in the garden," Charles muses of the house he has left behind, referring to Switzerland's omnipresent red-and-white standard. "But it's as if there's one."
Tanner was 40 when he made Charles, which kicks off Anthology's weeklong tribute. Its themesdropout ambivalence and the maddening stability of a centuries-old democracyare touchstones of the filmmaker's oft-wearying cinema of systemic hangover. He was also a nomad: Tanner knocked about with the merchant navy in the early 1950s, then worked at the British Film Institute, where, inspired by the Free Cinema movement, he co-directed a short on Piccadilly Circus crowds. Through filmmaker (and Sequence critic) Lindsay Anderson's introduction, Tanner met the novelist John Berger, who would help out on Charles and co-write three of Tanner's films, including his next, 1971's Salamander.
Bulle Ogier stars as Rosemonde, a mesmerizing moppet who quits her job at a sausage plant to touch feet inappropriately at a shoe store. A novelist (Jacques Denis, the teacher in Tanner's group-hug classic Jonah Who Will be 25 in the Year 2000) and a journalist vie to tell Her Spaciness's story, but like many Tanner women, Rosemonde twists away. Personal paths colliding with looming forces would be a refrain in Tanner's movies, leading to either poignancy (In the Middle of the World, a local pol-in-the-making falls in love with an Italian waitress) or loss (as for the mismatched teens on the run in Messidors nightmare-pretty Switzerland).
Tanner kept going, marooning countryman Bruno Ganz as a sailor with a Super 8 who jumps ship in Lisbon in 1983' s In the White City, but of his later films, his 1995 doc Men of the Port shows the ever-comforting grip of the past on the director: a return to the Genoa he visited in his 20s, for a utopian sketch of the dockworkers union.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.