Alain Tanner - Director

Nationality: Swiss. Born: Geneva, 6 December 1929. Education: Educated in economic sciences, Calvin College, Geneva. Career: Shipping clerk, early 1950s; moved to London, worked at British Film Institute, 1955; assistant producer for the BBC, 1958; returned to Switzerland, 1960; co-founder, Association Suisse des Réalisateurs, early 1960s; director for Swiss French TV, 1964–69; began collaboration with writer John Berger on Une Ville à Chandigarh , 1966; co-founder, Groupe 5, 1968. Awards: Experimental Film Prize, Venice Festival, for Nice Time , 1957; Best Screenplay (with Berger), National Society of Film Critics, for Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 , 1976; Special Jury Prize, Cannes Festival, for Les Années lumière , 1981.

Films as Director:


Nice Time (short) (co-d)


Ramuz, passage d'un poète (short)


L'Ecole (sponsored film)


Les Apprentis (doc feature)


Une Ville Ă  Chandigarh


Charles, mort ou vif ( Charles, Dead or Alive )


Le Salamandre ( The Salamander ) 1973; Le Retour d'Afrique


Le Milieu du monde ( The Middle of the World )


Jonah qui aura 25 ans en l'année 2000 ( Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 )




Les Années lumière ( Light Years Away )


Dans la ville blanche ( In the White City )


No Man's Land


François Simon—La présence


Flamme dans mon coeur ( A Flame in My Heart ); Vallée Fantôme


Femme de Rose Hill ( The Woman of Rose Hill )


L'Homme que a perdu son ombre (+ pr, sc)


The Diary of Lady M (+ pr)


Les Hommes du port (+ sc)


Fourbi (+ sc, pr)


Requiem (+ sc, pr)


Jonas et Lila, Ă  demain (+ sc, pr)


By TANNER: book—

Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 , with John Berger, Berkeley, 1983.

By TANNER: articles—

Interview with Michel Delahaye and others, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1969.

Interview with L. Bonnard, in Positif (Paris), February 1972.

" Le Milieu du monde ," an interview with Noel Simsolo and Guy Braucourt, in Ecran (Paris), October 1974.

"Irony Is a Double-edged Weapon," an interview with L. Rubinstein, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 6, no. 4, 1975.

"Keeping Hope for Radical Change Alive," an interview with L. Rubinstein, in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1976/77.

"Alain Tanner: After Jonah," an interview with M. Tarantino, in Sight and Sound (London), no.1, 1978/79.

Interview with Jill Forbes, in Films and Filming (London), February 1982.

Interview with Martyn Auty, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), November 1983.

Interview with J. Chevallier and Y. Alion, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), September 1985.

Interview with F. Sabouraud and S. Toubiana, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1987.

"Tanner in the Year 1991," interview with Bruno Vecchi, in World Press Review , December 1991.

"Alain Tanner," interview with M. Buruiana, in Sequences , September 1990.

Interview, in Cinémaction (Courbevoie), January 1992.

"Ou sont les reponses nouvelles?" in Ciné-Bulles (Montreal), no. 219/220, 1994.

Interview with Thierry Jousse and Frédéric Strauss, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1994.

"A Lindsay Anderson," an obituary in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1994.

On TANNER: books—

Leach, Jim, A Possible Cinema: The Films of Alain Tanner , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1984.

Dimitriu, Christian, Alain Tanner , Paris, 1985.

On TANNER: articles—

"Tanner Issue" of Cinema (Zurich), vol. 20, no. 1, 1974.

Tarantino, M., "Tanner and Berger: the Voice Off-Screen," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1979/80.

Harrild, A. E., "Tanner-Jonah-Ideology," in Film Directions (Belfast), vol. 3, no. 11, 1980.

"The Screenwriter as Collaborator," interview of John Berger, in Cineaste (New York), Summer 1980.

" Les Années lumière Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 June 1981.

Pulleine, Tim, "Tanner's White City," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1983/1984.

Buache, Freddy, "Alain Tanner," in Revue Belge du Cinéma (Brussels), Winter 1985.

Kinder, M., "'Thelma & Louise' and 'Messidor' as Feminist Road Movies," in Film Quarterly , vol. 45, no. 2, 1991/1992.

de Baecque, A., "Entretien avec Alain Tanner," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1992.

White, Armond, "Time Zones," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1992.

Deriaz, F., "A Soleure: Alain Tanner s'explique," in Cine-Bulletin (Zurich), no. 245, 1996.

* * *

Alain Tanner's involvement with film began during his college years. While attending Geneva's Calvin College, he and Claude Goretta formed Geneva's first film society. It was during this time that Tanner developed an admiration for the ethnographic documentaries of Jean Rouch and fellow Swiss Henry Brandt, an influence that continued throughout his career. After a brief stint with the Swiss merchant marine, Tanner spent a year in London as an apprentice at the BFI, where, with Goretta, he completed an experimental documentary, Nice Time , which chronicled the night life of Piccadilly Circus. While in London he participated in the Free Cinema Movement, along with Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, and Lindsay Anderson. Through Anderson, Tanner made the acquaintance of novelist and art critic John Berger, who would later write the scenarios for Le Salamandre, Middle of the World , Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 , and Le Retour d'Afrique. Upon returning to Switzerland in 1960, Tanner completed some forty documentaries for television. Among these were: Les Apprentis , which concerned the lives of teenagers (and created using the methods of Rouch's direct cinema); Une Ville Ă  Chandigarh , on the architecture designed by Le Corbusier for the Punjab capital (the narration for this film was assembled by John Berger); and newsreel coverage of the events of May 1968 in Paris. This last project provided the ammunition for Tanner (once again with Goretta) to form Groupe 5, a collective of Swiss filmmakers. They proposed an idea to Swiss TV for the funding of full-length narrative features to be shot in 16-millimeter and then blown-up to 35-millimeter for release. The plan enabled Tanner to make his first feature, Charles, Dead or Alive , which won first prize at Locarno in 1969.

The film tells of a middle-aged industrialist who, on the eve of receiving an award as the foremost business personality of the year, discovers his disaffection for the institution-laden society in which he finds himself. Following an innate sense of anarchism that Tanner posits as universal, he attempts to reject this lifestyle. His retreat into madness is blocked by his family and friends, who compel him, by appealing to his sense of duty, to resume his responsibilities.

All Tanner's films follow a similar scenario: individuals or a group become alienated from society; rejecting it, they try to forge a new society answerable to themselves alone, only to be defeated by the relentless pressures of traditional society's institutions, whose commerce they never cease to require. This theme receives its fullest and most moving expression in Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000. Here the failure of the collective and the survivors of 1968, who come together at Marguerite's farm outside Geneva, is not viewed as a defeat so much as one generation's attempt to keep the hope of radical social change alive by passing on the fruits of its mistakes, that is, its education or its lore, to the succeeding generation.

Tanner's style is a blend of documentary and fable. He uses techniques such as one scene/one shot, a staple of cinéma-vérité documentary, to portray a fable or folk-story. This tension between fact and fiction, documentary and fable, receives its most exacting treatment in Le Salamandre. Rosemonde's indomitable, rebellious vitality repeatedly defeats the efforts of the two journalists to harness it in a pliable narrative form. After Jonah , Tanner introduces a darker vision in Messidor, Light Years Away , and Dans la ville blanche. The possibility of escaping society by returning to nature is explored and shown to be equally provisional. The tyranny of physical need is portrayed as being just as oppressive and compromising as that of the social world.

—Dennis Nastav

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