- READER REVIEWS
The Witnesses (Les Temoins)
(No longer in theaters)
André Téchiné’s The Witnesses is excitingly convoluted. It begins as a romantic quadrangle with unruly emotions and hints of violence to come—think Almodóvar by way of Hitchcock. Rich-girl Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart), who writes books for children, has a baby she doesn’t much care for and an open marriage to Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), a macho vice cop of Arab descent. Her unprepossessing gay doctor friend, Adrien (Michel Blanc), picks up Manu (Johan Libéreau), a handsome young man from the country who doesn’t want to sleep with him but likes Adrien’s attention and the trips to Sarah’s gorgeous beach house. Then the homophobic Mehdi saves Manu from drowning and emerges with a hard-on. Mehdi and Manu get it on, Adrien becomes unhinged, Sarah struggles to write a grown-up novel, and there are subplots involving Manu’s opera-singer sister (Julie Depardieu) and Mehdi’s menacing crackdown on Manu’s hooker friends. Just when it comes to a melodramatic boil, Adrien notices spots on Manu’s chest …
It’s 1984, you see, and what follows is literally a coitus interruptus. Manu declines, Mehdi goes nuts with longing, Adrien throws himself into AIDS research, Sarah appropriates Manu’s story for her first grown-up book … Téchiné seems to relish how the narrative sputters and the characters turn inward, and in his circumlocutory way he makes the AIDS trauma new again. It was an interruption—a brutal end to a hard-won sexual freedom. The characters in The Witnesses form an unexpected microcosm.There are ellipses in The Witnesses, events filled in by the narrator that leave us scratching our heads: Téchiné left out that? The ending isn’t much of an ending. But in an interview, Téchiné quotes Fritz Lang: “Death is not an ending.” He also has a character in the movie say, of a work of art, “The hub keeps shifting, like in life.” It’s no mean feat to shift the hub and leave us more intrigued than annoyed.