Saturday, 12 December 2009

Les temoins/ The Witnesses, Andre Techine, France 2007

Set in Paris at the beginning of the 1980s, Andre Techine's film is a wonderful, bittersweet, memoir about the early days of AIDS and the various ways of how those afflicted with it - and their partners and relatives - coped with it. Despite its grave subject matter, Les temoins is told in a fresh, light, and most of all, unpretentious fashion. Those among the viewers who are old enough to recall those days when HIV first appeared - including myself - and who were affected by it in one way or another, will find Techine's film painful to watch at times, for he very truthfully captured the fear, the hysteria and the uncertainty that surrounded the virus which, back then, was equal to a death sentence.

So it is surely no coincidence that Techine's film is full of references to death and its opposite - birth, which come in all shapes or forms, water being one of them. Another, frequently recurring one, is the Ile de la Cite, the oldest part of Paris or, put differently, the city's birthplace.

A wonderfully melancholy scene in the second half of Les temoins beautifully catches the crazy insouciance of the last days of disco which, while on their way out, were already tinged by the menace of AIDS when we see a hooker dancing to the 1982 hit 'Marcia Baila' by Les Rita Mitsouko, a song that is as beautiful and ecstatic as it is sad.

The next thing we know is, that she's HIV positive.