’80s AIDS epidemic revisited

The Witnesses (Les Témoins)

on February 02, 2008 by Richard Mowe
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Veteran French director André Téchiné (Changing Times, Alice et Martin) charts the dramatic emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, witnessed from the thick of it by a diverse collection of characters from very different walks of life. Well-served by a varied cast that includes Michel Blanc, Emmanuelle Beart, Sami Bouajila, Julie Depardieu and impressive newcomer Johan Libéreau, he follows the first stories about the outbreak and how it affects individuals, communities as well as the medical establishment.

Libéreau plays Manu, who arrives in Paris to move in with his sister Julie (Depardieu) in a squalid hotel room. His encounter at a favorite Parisian cruising spot with Adrien (Blanc), a 50-year-old doctor, introduces him to a diverse group of friends and lovers including Sarah and Mehdi (Béart and Bouajila), a young married couple who have just had their first child but barely have time for family life because of their work commitments. Manu’s presence throws emotions into turmoil, especially when he and Mehdi, a vice squad cop, become surprisingly guilt-free lovers.

Divided into three chapters, the film takes on different hues, ranging from a fairly light-hearted beginning when the characters are introduced through an idyllic interlude in the French countryside to Manu’s realization that he has contracted a mysterious disease. The reactions of his acquaintances run the gamut of emotion from panic to self-doubt and introspection about the important things in life. But, despite its serious subject matter and dark finale, Téchiné keeps an optimistic tone without becoming sentimental.

Distributor: Strand
Cast: Michel Blanc, Emmanuelle Beart, Sami Bouajila, Julie Depardieu and Johan Libéreau
Director: André Techiné
Screenwriters: André Techiné, Laurent Guyot and Viviane Zingg
Producer: Said Ben Said
Genre: Drama; French-language, subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 115 min.
Release date: February 1, 2008 NY/SF

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