Alain Tanner

Active - 1957 - 2008  |   Born - Dec 6, 1929   |   Genres - Comedy Drama, Drama, Culture & Society

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

During the late '60s and early '70s, Swiss filmmaker Alain Tanner was the key figure in the development and popularization of the "new Swiss cinema." He remains one of his country's best-known directors. Born in Geneva to a writer/painter and an actress, Tanner attended Geneva's Calvin College where he studied economics and became fascinated by cinema. Following graduation and a brief stint as a merchant marine, Tanner began working for the British Film Institute in England where he worked in the information department organizing archives, adding subtitles to foreign films, translating, and other tasks. In 1957, Tanner made a short Free Cinema film, Nice Time, in collaboration with Claude Goretta. The film won a prize at that year's Venice Film Festival and received critical praise in Great Britain. By 1960, he had returned to Switzerland, after pausing in France where he assisted on the production of a few commercial films. It was in Paris that Tanner met a number of important French New Wave directors and Henri Langlois, the director of the Cinematheque Francaise. It was an influential period for Tanner who found the atmosphere too cutthroat and the filmmakers too "right-wing anarchist" for his more socialist sensibilities; still, his work bears the imprint of such directors as Godard, Renoir, and Bresson. He returned to Switzerland by 1960 and began making French-language television documentaries. He made over 40 such films over the decade. As part of Groupe Cinque, an association of young filmmakers, Tanner made his feature-film debut with Charles Dead or Alive (1969). The film won first prize at that year's Locarno Film Festival. His next two films were written and made in close collaboration with leftist art critic John Berger. Both La Salamandre (1971) and Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976) were filmed with a blend of cinéma vérité and fantasy and are imbued with idealism and hope for a utopian future. Subsequent films have been considerably less upbeat and have met with mixed reviews. Tanner's work has been compared to that of Bertolt Brecht in that his films seek to keep the audience distanced and constantly aware that the film is not reality.

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