Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Toubiana's Eighties Editorship: French Cinema and Cannes

From the time he became the chief editor of Cahiers in 1981 until his departure in 1992 Toubiana wrote and published an estimated 230 articles which includes editorials, critiques, interviews and journal. What stands out from his critiques is how they are able to canonize films and directors into the Cahiers canon just by the fact that he was writing about them. The films that Toubiana wrote major critiques for stand out as ‘Événements’ as the film would usually be featured on the cover and the director would be interviewed. They would also later be cross-referenced as important films for that year. These critiques stand out both due to the strength and interest of Toubiana’s writing but also due to the fact that he was the patron of Cahiers. As a journalist-critic Toubiana usually cites interviews within his critiques and there is a loose quality to them. He cites dialogue from memory and acknowledges that it might not be exactly correct. It’s a writing that’s not always precise. There is also a lot of gastronomical references in his critiques which is a trait that recalls the earlier writing of Claude Chabrol. The critiques provide examples of what were considered are the most important French and international films of the year. There were two important areas of interest for Toubiana’s editorship of Cahiers in the Eighties – these are French cinema and the Cannes Film Festival. 
Of the first area of interest, French cinema, Toubiana wrote “It is French cinema that is our conjecture.” The French film industry was the terrain that Cahiers could most efficiently engage with and could help shape. The Eighties marked the return of French cinema at Cahiers. The important directors to spark this return are the older nouvelle vague directors with Godard and Truffaut at the forefront and then Rivette, Rohmer and Chabrol. Even though Truffaut died early on in the decade he would still retain an immense importance for Toubiana. There was a special Truffaut memorial issue.  His life and films would be honored, in the culture at larger and at Cahiers, with the re-release of Les Deux Anglaises as well as by the publication of Truffaut-related books like Hitchcock/Truffaut and his Correspondences.
This encounter with Truffaut also sparked a return towards an industrial French cinema. Among Toubiana’s best critiques are the ones where he brings a new generation of French directors into Cahiers pantheon. Toubiana published major texts, whether critiques or interviews, on the following French directors: Alain Corneau, Claude Miller, André Téchiné, Robert Guédiguian, Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, Robert Bresson, Raymond Depardon, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Maurice Pialat, Bertrand Blier, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Claude Berri, Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard, Michel Deville, Pascal Thomas, Jacques Demy, Tonie Marshall, Georges Rouquier, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Marguerite Duras, Leos Carax, Éric Rohmer, Patrice Chéreau, Jean-Claude Brisseau and Paul Vecchiali.
The second important area of interest for Toubiana and Cahiers in this period was the Cannes film festival. It was according to Toubiana “the grand window into world cinema” and through it the magazine could encounter and analyze emerging directors and the trends of contemporary cinema. By its coverage of the Cannes Festival, the biggest media event on film, Cahiers could evaluate the state of world cinema while at the same time improving Cahiers’ own visibility. 
Toubiana started to cover the Cannes film festival in 1981 and he continued to do so throughout his tenure. In 1992 was even invited to the festival as a jury member and this experience disillusioned him with regards to it. Toubiana also covered the Venice film festival but which he saw as second-rate due the lesser quality of the films.  Italy film didn’t benefit as much from government subsidies for culture which France had and which Cannes benefitted from. 
The festival coverage stands out for being critical rather than sensationalist publicity for the festival. The mediocrity of many of the films was mentioned and a there was frustration about the festival’s disregard for smaller but more difficult films. The directors favored by Cahiers were put in opposition to negatively viewed academic directors showing at the festival. The criticism by Cahiers of some of the film festival practices made its relationship with the festivals a little tendentious at times. This strong and dissident coverage towards the festival was rare within the often self-congratulating cultural sphere.
Toubiana’s first Cannes coverage, Un film-surprise dans un festival sans, was critical of the festival. “It was a sad celebration,” wrote Toubiana. “What bothers us the most this year are the films. There is a nearly total absence of cinema, of the strong moments of cinema.” Toubiana complained how the role of criticism was weakening in the face of the film’s publicity and promotional machines. This demanded in response an increased intensity in film criticism. 
Toubiana criticized a ‘dumb’ Mel Brooks film which received a popular reception and instead highlighted Skolimowski’s Haut-les-main which he discusses alongside Godard’s Ici et ailleurs. Toubiana wrote, “It’s their secret. They are manifesto and testament films about cinema. They pose Bazinian questions par excellence: What is this cloth which drapes over all of the images? What motivates the movement of characters? What is a cinematic image?”
Serge Daney had encouraged this dissidence. In a Journal contribution from 1987 Daney brings up how the 40th anniversary of Cannes was over-saturated with media. Daney sees the discourse of this over-mediatized festival as full of clichés that ends up not doing it justice. This is a failure. The dissidence of Cahiers is in opposition to the popular press and the polite notes of many professional journalists reviewing the festival. Daney argued that Cannes needs more criticism and less promotion,

It will not be enough as long as the television media will only present a soft positive perspective on everything that unfolds on the Cannes stages.  What is important is doubt, criticism and a negation. These taboos and criticism are actually what makes a film festival. There needs to be dirt, debates, polemics, proclamations and swoons because without these the festival would only be a simulacrum and nothing but noise. The festival only works through its negative moments – through a process that denies it. This is necessary for it to finally becoming itself. Through this negation there can finally be an event at the festival.


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