The Witnesses Andre Techine

The Witnesses Andre Techine
Like Rainblo gum, The Witnesses (Les Témoins) begins robustly but rapidly loses gusto, ending well chewed, spread out and unfulfilling. Set in 1984 Paris, it views the burgeoning AIDS crisis through the eyes of five interconnected friends/lovers/archetypes: the flawed doctor, the conflicted cop, the stalled writer, the struggling ingénue and the young, gay Lothario. Rampant sex, clandestine romantic entanglements, parental negligence, novel writing and an epidemic ensue. And that’s only the first act. Beginning in an operatic rush, the film’s initial shot finds Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart) frantically typing. Director André Téchiné, who co-wrote the script, establishes his kinetic intentions by feverishly following her movements. Like the lens, the plot proceeds to bounce about continuously. Téchiné tries to hold his multifaceted film together with a too-slight literary device and a healthy dose of symbolism (i.e., water, running, flying) but there’s too much ground to cover and not enough time. Sarah’s early attempts to finish a book — first about male homosexuality, then about maternal neglect — mirror the plot and introduce the film’s secondary thematic concerns (i.e., the sexualisation of parental figures and familial shortcomings). Ironically, the framing device highlights the scattered storylines without cohesively fusing them. Furthermore, the gravitas of her, and the film’s, eventual focus (i.e., love in the time of AIDS) is diluted by a surfeit of narrative flights. On the plus side, look for subtle French new wave influences, notably Breathless (jump cuts and challenged perceptions of masculinity), Jules et Jim (a bizarre love triangle) and Le Collectionneuse (if Haydée were a man) and a number of compelling performances, especially from the always strong Béart and Sami Bouajila, as her conflicted husband. A particularly thin DVD for non-French speakers, the package’s special features (a theatrical trailer and a pair of lengthy interviews with Téchiné and actor, Michel Blanc) lack English subtitles. However, bilingual or not, you can fittingly make out the phrase "tres complexe” in Blanc’s talking head session. (Mongrel Media)