Citizen Langlois

Edgardo Cozarinsky’s 68-minute documentary about Henri Langlois, the idiosyncratic cofounder of the French Cinematheque and spiritual father of the French New Wave, was awarded the 1995 Forum prize at the Berlin gathering of the International Federation of Film Critics; the jury (of which I was a member) cited it as a brilliant essay revealing a multifaceted grasp of a major pioneer for whom cinema was the ultimate nationality. Langlois (1914-1977), a Turkish exile, was forced to flee Izmir when the Turks reclaimed it from Greek troops in 1922, setting off fires that destroyed three-fifths of the city, and Cozarinsky (One Man’s War), himself an exile who left Buenos Aires for Paris, uses film images bursting into flames as a recurring motif — not so much Langlois’ Rosebud as the furnace consuming his beloved sled. Langlois’ passion for film preservation and multifaceted hatred for state bureaucracies were the traits of a complex individual, and Cozarinsky’s portrait is far from exhaustive; in keeping with a certain French etiquette, there’s nary a word about Langlois’ homosexuality, and aspects of his paranoia are skimped. But the man is there and recognizable, and so is his divine madness, as reflected in the words of his companion Mary Meerson — that Josef von Sternberg’s lost The Case of Lena Smith will reappear one day when mankind deserves it. (JR)

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