Directed by: Andre Techine
Countries & Regions: France
Length: 115 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 25 February 2008
Cat No: ART369DVD
Screen ratio 1:1.78
Dolby Digital 5.1
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Moving and powerful drama following a group of friends and lovers in 1980s France. When handsome young Manu (Johan Liberau) arrives in... Read More
An absorbing ensemble piece with likeable, flawed characters, Andre Techine’s The Witnesses is an original and constantly surprising drama that takes place in the mid 1980s, when a mysterious, untreatable disease began to make headlines.
Through the course of three chapters, the film focuses on a group of friends – Sarah, a novelist (Emmanuelle Beart), Mehdi, her policeman husband (Sami Bouajila) and her gay friend Adrien (Michel Blanc). When Adrien introduces his new object of affection, the far younger Manu, it becomes a catalyst to a radical overhaul of all the characters’ lives. They witness the outbreak of AIDS, and the end of the carefree era of casual sexual relations.
Although it would be misleading to label this complex film an AIDS drama, Techine expertly shows the hysterical, doom-laden reaction of the media towards the disease, plunging the victims of the virus into unnecessary despair. The mid-80s zeitgeist is expertly captured, and the pathos of Manu’s plight is very moving – he does not know the significance of the abrasions on his body, and does not think to inform his lover, failing to realise the gravity of his condition. To its great credit, the film is never openly manipulative, unlike similarly-themed dramas such as Philadelphia, which practically demand the audience shed tears on cue.
In spite of the subject matter, it is the interplay between the intriguing characters that most interests Techine. On paper, Sarah is irresponsible and selfish - this is a woman who wears headphones to drown out her baby’s screams - yet there is real warmth in her scenes with Blanc. Mehdi at first seems like a macho boor, but his sudden, unanticipated attraction to Manu displays a softer side; a scene towards the end where he shares an airplane flight with the latter’s sister is a beautifully tender moment. Like the best work of Poliakoff, Techine likes people, with all their flaws and foibles. Although sadness touches all of their lives, each character takes control of their destiny, and the film celebrates their stoicism. A life-affirming drama for adults, The Witnesses is one of the best films of 2007.