The first feature film directed by Bertrand Tavernier, “L’Horloger de Saint-Paul” was also his first major critical success. And this, despite a start of the film painful for the director.
The Watchmaker of Saint-Paul : the baptism of fire at Tavernier
Like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard before him, Bertrand Tavernier began his career as a film critic. In 1974, the director moved on to directing with The Watchmaker of Saint-Paul. Inspired by the novel The Everton Watchmaker (written by Georges Simenon), the film does not take place in the United States but in the city of Lyon. Indeed, Tavernier was born in Lyon. He therefore wanted to move the action within this French city, highlighting the historic district of Vieux Lyon. Note also that the latter was to be razed in the 1960s. However, the success of the film made it possible to rehabilitate this district, which was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
The Watchmaker of Saint-Paul follows Michel Descombes (Philippe Noiret), a watchmaker in the Saint-Paul district of Lyon. One day, the police show up at his workshop; he then learns that his son is the author of a murder. Between the latter and his father, relations have often been strained. However, when his son is arrested, Michel will do everything to get closer to him.
The film received the Special Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as the Louis-Delluc Prize.
Difficult start for Tavernier
Tavernier’s first difficulty was first of all to convince Georges Simenon to adapt his book to the cinema. Indeed, the writer initially refused the proposal. However, the director strongly insisted, not hesitating to stand by in front of his home. Simenon then accepted the filmmaker’s offer.
The main role of The Watchmaker of Saint-Paul was entrusted to Philippe Noiret, his future fetish actor since the two men will collaborate thereafter on eight films. The latter was of immense help in finding significant financial support from distributors and exhibitors. Only, the film does not find any producer. There is therefore one year left in suspense, before being produced.
The shooting itself was a little way of the cross for Tavernier since it was his first feature film. Indeed, the director felt a certain pressure at the idea of directing technicians more experienced than him. All’s well that ends well, since the film was a success that sounded like the start of a long and beautiful career for the late director.