Techine, Andre: Profile of France’s Greatest Living Director

André Téchiné was born on March 13, 1943 at Valence-d’Agen, a small town in the Midi-Pyrénées region of Tarn-et-Garonne, France.

His family, of Spanish ancestry, owned a small business making agricultural equipment. He grew up in the south west French country side and in his adolescence acquired a passion for films. From 1952 to 1959 he went to a Catholic boarding school in Montauban.  Allowed to leave the school only on Sunday afternoons, he would go to the cinema, though he often had to return before the screening ended.

In 1959 he attended a secular state school, which exposed him to a different culture, with Marxist teachers, a cine club and a film magazine, La Plume et l’écran, to which he contributed. “Films were my only opening to the world,” Téchiné explained. “They were my only possibility of escaping my family environment and my boarding school. It was probably dangerous because, through movies, I learned how the world works and how human relations work. But it was magical, and I was determined to follow the thread of that magic.”

At 19, he moved to Paris to pursue a career in filmmaking. When he failed the entrance exam at France’s most prominent film school, he began writing reviews for the prestigious Cahiers du cinéma where he worked for four years (1964–1967). His first article was about Truffaut’s The Soft Skin, published in July 1964.

He the became an assistant director for Marc’O in Les Idoles (1967), a film version of an experimental play edited by Jean Eustache; Téchiné made an uncredited cameo in Eustache’s film La Maman et la putain (1972).

Téchiné was also assistant director to Jacques Rivette, his editor at Cahiers du Cinema, on L’amour fou (1969).

Téchiné is noted for his elegantly shot, emotionally charged films that often delve into the complexities of human nature. One of the trademarks of his filmography is the lyrical examination of human relations in a sensitive but unsentimental way. Influenced by Roland Barthes, Bertolt Brecht, Ingmar Bergman, William Faulkner and the French New Wave, Téchiné’s films are known for their subtle exploration of sexuality and identity. He tends to challenge conventions in depicting gay relations, the North African dimensions of French culture, and the center-periphery relationship between Paris and his native Southwest.

“I never know how each film will end,” Téchiné explains. “When I’m filming, I shoot each scene as if it were a short film. It’s only when I edit that I worry about the narrative. My objective is to tell a story, but that’s the final thing I do.”

Fear of flying has prevented him from attending most film openings or festivals, which take place more than a train ride from his Paris apartment overlooking the Luxembourg Garden.


Paulina s’en va (1969)
Téchiné made his debut as director with Paulina is Leaving, in which the title character drifts aimlessly, struggling to find ways out of her disenchantment and realize her calling in life. Initially conceived as a short, the film was shot in two periods, over one week in 1967 and two weeks in 1969.

The film, shown at that year’s Venice Film Festival, disconcerted audiences and was not actually released until 1975. In the meantime, Téchiné experimented with different genres and auteurs while providing screenplays for other directors, including Liliane de Kermadec’s Aloïse.

Souvenirs d’en France (1974)
Téchiné’s second film, Souvenirs d’en France (French Provincial), mixes black comedy, romantic drama and nostalgia with a distinctly Brechtian imprint. The film, inspired by Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons, was shot in the director’s native village. It represents a compressed history of a small-town family from early in the century through the Resistance and on to May 1968.  Téchiné explored the relationship between the grand scope of life and more personal histories.  The film, which stars Jeanne Moreau, began a trend of casting respected actresses in major roles.

Barocco (1976)

Téchiné demonstrated flair for richly textured, atmospheric storytelling with the thriller Barocco, an elegant crime drama, rooted in expressionist surrealism. A boxer, who has accepted and then turned down a bribe from a politician to tell a lie that will influence an election, is killed by a hired assassin. The boxer’s girlfriend falls in love with the killer while trying to remake him into the image of her slain lover.

Les sœurs Brontë (1979)

Téchiné took on biography with The Bronte Sisters, a profile of the famous Brontë sisters. The film’s repressive mood evokes the harshness and injustice of the Brontë sisters lives. The passion and color that is so vivid in their novels was absent from their existence. The film’s gloomy cinematography uses dreary earth colors to emphasize the cold, remote feel.

The film features an all-star cast: Isabelle Adjani, Marie-France Pisier and Isabelle Huppert as Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë, respectively, with Pascal Gregory as their ill-fated brother Branwell.

Hôtel des Amériques (1981)

Set in Biarritz, the film explores the strained relationship between a successful middle-aged woman and an unfulfilled and emotionally unbalanced man in a story of ill-matched love. This film changed Techine’s style, anchoring his work from then on in more realistic universes. For the first time Téchiné let his actors improvise, a practice he has continued ever since,

“From Hôtel des Amériques onwards my films are no longer genre films,” he said. “My inspiration is no longer drawn from the cinema” This film also began a long productive collaboration with Catherine Deneuve. “There are some directors who are more feminine than others, like Téchiné or Truffaut. They are an exceptional gift to actresses,” Deneuve said about their teaming.

Le lieu du crime (1986)
“Scene of the Crime” begins with a shot right out of the opening of Great Expectations. In a small provincial town, a young boy helps an escaped criminal. The boy, a troubled youth disaffected by his parents’ divorce, lives with his mother and grandparents. The escaped convict commits murder to save the boy from harm, but gets involved with the mother. By the time of the boy’s first communion, the mother has fallen in love with the convict and wants to run away with him.

Les innocents (1987)
In Les Innocents, a young woman, born and raised in Northern France, is visiting the Mediterranean city of Toulon. She is prompted by the wedding of her sister, and the disappearance of her brother, a deaf-mute who supports himself as a pickpocket under the tutelage of a young Arab and an older bisexual married man with a weakness for young Arabs. The girl meets them and finds herself attracted to the young Arab and the older man’s son, who is also bisexual like his father. She is torn between the two in a romantic and sexual dilemma that mirrors France’s political turmoil regarding the nation’s growing Arab population.

J’embrasse pas (1991)
I don’t kiss is a bleak, melancholic portrait of a young man searching and failing to find meaning in his life. An idealistic youth leaves his home in the rural southwest of France, hoping to make a career as actor in Paris. After auspicious start in the French capital, he discovers that he has no acting talent and soon loses his job and his room.  To make a living he hustles as a male prostitute, and then falls in love with a young prostitute, but the relationship has terrible consequences.

My Favorite Season (1993)
My Favorite Season (Ma saison préférée) is a dark, somber story of middle-aged estranged siblings, a provincial lawyer (sister) and a skilled surgeon (brother). They begin to come to terms with their new professional and personal identities when their aging mother declines after a stroke. Téchiné describes it as a film “about individuality and the coldness of the modern world.” It earned acclaim when it was screened in competition at the 1993 Cannes Film Fest.

Wild Reeds (1994)
Téchiné had his greatest success to date with Wild Reeds (Les roseaux sauvages) . The film was commissioned by French TV as part of a series of eight films entitled Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge, although it was shown first at cinemas. This is a bucolic tale of teenage self-discovery centered on the inner turmoil of four teenagers staying at a boarding school in Aquitaine in 1962, their political and sexual awakening with the effect of the Algerian War as backdrop.

The director, inspired by his own adolescence, delivers a limpid and sensual work, bathed by the light of southwest France. Téchiné works with certain sets of themes including family bonds, homosexuality, and exile. Wild Reeds is his most autobiographical movie; like the teen-age Téchiné, the main character, François, attends an all-male boarding school. While part of the story revolves around François’s discovery that he is gay, Téchiné said his principal interest was to evoke how the Algerian war of independence was felt in a rural corner of France. “If I hadn’t been able to inject this, if I had only been making a film about adolescent coming of age, it wouldn’t have interested me at all,” he explained.

Wild Reeds was a hit at the 1994 César award ceremony, winning four out of eight nominations (best film, best director, best script, and best newcomer for Élodie Bouchez). It also won the Prix Delluc in 1994. This was Téchiné’s sixth film released in the USA (in 1995—following French Provincial (Souvenirs d’en France), Barocco, Hôtel des Amériques, Rendez-vous and Scene of the Crime) and his most autobiographical picture.  Wild Reeds won the New York Film Critics Award and National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Les voleurs (1996)
Les voleurs (Thieves), an ambitious and complex crime drama, jumps through time and switches narrative perspectives in a Rashomon-style exploring family and amorous ties. It postulates a fatalistic world bound by family origins and intense romantic longings in which every character is trapped into becoming a thief of one kind or another. This film earned Téchiné nominations for the César and Golden Palme at Cannes, as well as other honors.

Alice et Martin (1998)

Alice and Martin is a haunting love story between two emotionally damaged outsiders that marked his reunion with Juliette Binoche. As in his earlier film Les Voleurs, Téchiné told the story out of sequence.

Loin (2001)

Far, shot on digital video, employed natural light, using a slightly degraded video image to create a sense of collapse and unease.  Set in Tangier, the film is told in three “movements,” with the sections marked by chapters. The plot centers on three characters: a truck driver importing goods between Morocco and France tempted to cross the strait to Spain smuggling drugs; his young Arab friend desperate to go to Europe; and the driver’s Jewish ex-girlfriend who is hesitant about her future migration to Canada. During the three days they are together, fateful decisions are made.

Strayed (2003)
Téchiné received acclaim with Strayed (Les égarés), an adaptation of the novel Le Garçon aux yeux gris, by Gilles Perrault. While Téchiné usually braids together several intersecting stories, this wartime drama traces a single linear tale with four characters. In 1940, an attractive widow flees Nazi-occupied Paris for the South with her small daughter and teen-age son; they are soon joined by a mysterious young man. The foursome find refuge from the war in abandoned house.

Changing Times (2004)
Changing Times (Les temps qui changent) (2004) is a warmhearted exploration of cultural collision in contemporary Morocco, oscillating between two worlds and two ideas about the meaning of experience and the enduring power of love. A middle age construction supervisor comes to Tangier to search for the love of his youth, lost years ago. She is now married and with a grown up son. They eventually cross paths in a supermarket. Téchiné weaves together a half dozen subplots, creating a set of variations on the theme of divided sensibilities tugging one another into states of perpetual unrest and possible happiness.

Les Témoins (2007)
Les Témoins (The Witnesses) deals with a group of friends and lovers confronting the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Mehdi, a French-Arab vice cop, is in an open marriage with Sarah, a writer of children’s books who finds herself unable to bond with her newborn child. Sarah’s best friend, Adrien, a middle aged doctor, is infatuated with Manu, a narcissistic young man, who recently arrived in Paris from the South. Julie is Manu’s opera singer sister, and Sandra, Manu’s hooker friend. The film is filled with color, life, and emotion until the AIDS epidemic disrupts the characters’ lives. Les Témoins received wide critical acclaim and brought Téchiné a level of international attention he had not received since the success of Wild Reeds and Les Voleurs.

The Girl on the Train (2009)
The Girl on the Train (La fille du RER), centers on a naive girl who fabricates a story about being attacked on a suburban Paris train by black and Arab youths who supposedly mistook her for a Jew. The story is based on a real event that took place in France in 2004. Téchiné dissects the psychological circumstances and consequences surrounding this lie in a rich drama. The director worked, in part, from Jean Marie Besset’s play about the scandal, RER, as well as from news reports and court records. “The story became the mirror of all French fears”, Téchiné commented, “a revelation of what we call the ‘collective unconscious.’ How an individual’s lie is transformed into truth with respect to the community at large and its fears. It’s a truly fascinating subject.”

Impardonnables (2011)
Set in Venice and adapted from a Philippe Djian’s novel, Unforgivable (Impardonnables) follows Francis, an aging successful writer of crime novels, married to a much younger ex-model. While suffering from writer’s block, he hires his wife’s ex-lesbian lover to investigate the disappearance of his adult daughter from a previous marriage who had eloped while visiting Venice. As his marriage begins to crumble, Francis pays the detective’s troubled son to secretly follow his wife’s whereabouts.