The Witnesses Movie Review

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Lost somewhere in André Téchiné's The Witnesses, a rather bewildered Emmanuelle Beart plays the part of Sarah, a frustrated children's book author with a new baby she doesn't really understand. Although the other main characters are only known to each other through her, she seems merely female window dressing for most of this men's film. Of much more import to the filmmaker are the activities of one Manu (Johan Libereau), a rather rudderless young man who's caught the eye of a doctor out cruising one fateful summer night in a Paris park. Because of that one inexplicable attraction in the summer of 1984 (rather portentously titled here "Happy Days"), we get a rather desultory melodrama about a love quadrangle during the start of the AIDS epidemic in France. And all the while, Sarah keeps writing in the sad expectation that somebody in the film will care.

No such luck. Manu is the story's free spirit and for a good while the only character the script seems much interested in. He's the animating force that's keeping the doctor, Adrien (the sharp, excellent Michel Blanc), going through the motions of his rather sad routine life. As much as Adrien wants romance from the substantially younger Manu, the feelings aren't reciprocated, and he confides his frustration to his good friend Sarah. That's when Manu starts hanging around, and Sarah's husband Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), starts to like what he sees...

The script throws complications at its characters, of course, though for the most part they are just that -- complications -- and not anything that helps advance a story which ultimately doesn't quite exist. For a time it doesn't quite matter, as Téchiné is content with showing us these beautiful, talented people enjoying themselves boating down the Seine, luxuriating in the ripe and fecund summertime, basking in life. Unfortunately Téchiné is also much more enamored of the charms of Manu than many in the audience are likely to be. While as written here, and as acted by the decently capable but rather affectless Libereau, Manu comes off as perfectly likeable, but hardly the animating principle that Téchiné appears to believe him to be. Given that fundamental failing, and the resulting inability to sketch in any of the remaining characters in any meaningful fashion, it's quickly difficult to follow the film with much interest, even when things take a turn for the serious once the specter of the new epidemic, AIDS, is raised.

The AIDS drama in America has typically been one of lost innocence. They have typically celebrated the flowering of sexual expression in the 1970s and then borne witness to the chill that followed in the aftermath of the plague's devastation in the 1980s. The Witnesses bears some sense of great historical change, though it comes in fragments. Manu watches news reports from America of tainted blood donor centers and general hysteria over the mystery disease. Adrien turns his medical expertise to treatment and education. But these are never quite woven together into any sort of meaningful portrait, and plenty of scenarios with possibilities -- the sexually conflicted Mehdi's job on the vice squad where he rounds up gays and prostitutes, Sarah's emotionally stunted narcissism, or the mystery of everyone's attraction to Manu -- are left dangling without much examination. In the end, The Witnesses bears witness to little more than a cursory glance at a particularly eventful period in history, one that deserves art of a more thoughtful nature.

Aka Les Témoins.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : Saïd Ben Saïd

Starring : , , Sami Bouajila, , Johan Libereau

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The Witnesses Rating

" Grim "

Rating: NR, 2007

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