Dear Abel Jafri,
We pay tribute this evening to a beautiful Republican ascent under the sign of commitment and author cinema with the best cinematographic success of this year. A trajectory that often was a fight against shortened labels and ideas. A journey all the more exemplary as you have put your talent and your career at the service of the youngest, to allow them to flourish, to express themselves by taming and appropriating the stage and the camera.
From a Burgundian childhood in the middle of the fields and in the shade of the foundries of Le Creusot to a adolescence punctuated by theatre and improv in the heart of a city, Aubervilliers, marked by the cultural ambition of its mayor, Jack Ralite, you are a pure product of the school of the Republic, but also of life and the houses of neighborhoods where you wear boards.
Because, placed at the heart of the republican pact and open to all, it has been for you a space of emancipation and recognition, it is towards the culture that you turn. It is the theatre that opens the way to cinema: you take your first steps in a play by Nathalie Sarraute then in Algeria in ruins of Catherine Lévy-Marie.
Your film career is the result of beautiful encounters: with Claude Sautet for your film debut in Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud alongside the greats; then with Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche who offers you a role in Bled Number One, a film whose evocative power has upset the Cannes Film Festival and where each character, including yours Bouzir, mixes his individual score with a collective destiny. This is the beginning of a long collaboration that continues with Last maquis then Les Chants de Mandrin. This is another encounter that has led to your Hollywood adventure for The Passion of Mel Gibson.
Anchored in a reality you never lose sight of and animated by the sense of work inherited from your father, you multiply activities between roles. You also shoot a lot on television, for TV movies and series dear to the heart of the French like Foster family or, more recently, Gears. Too often confined to stereotypical roles, you do not hesitate to denounce the representation of diversity on our screens.
Consecration comes with Timbuktu Abderrahmane Sissako, surely the most beautiful of your encounters. You embody with great accuracy all the complexity of the character and its paradoxes: the humanity that emerges under the implacable cruelty through the look that turns away during stoning, a smiling in love or a cigarette smoked in one stroke, a humanity that gives in to the arbitrary violence of the raging gunfire violating the purity of the landscape.
You have invested yourself in this great film adventure that was above all human: collecting garbage with children, arbitrating football games that in the film gave rise to a real moment of grace of an infinite poetry where the hope that then springs back into all its irreducibility.
A talented actor, you wanted to give back what you received: you thus transmit your passion to the youngest by animating theatre workshops in MJC, by intervening in schools or by teaching the direction of actors at the Cité du Cinéma de Saint-Denis where students from all walks of life share the talent and love of the 7th art.
For all those with whom you are committed, you want to embody much more than a model: you want to provoke the desire to show a different face of our country, You are fighting to change the way we look at our working-class neighbourhoods, whose solidarity, energy and immense talent you constantly remind us of.
Today, this republican symbol that I am about to hand over to you finds a well-deserved place alongside this southern cross that you never leave and that bears the memory of your fathers.
Dear Abel Jafri, on behalf of the President of the Republic and by virtue of the powers vested in us, we make you a Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honour.
Dear Tony Gatlif,
It is a cinema drunk with freedom, a cinema of music and travel that is in the spotlight tonight through this distinction that I have the great pleasure to present to you. A cinema with unbridled energy, vibrant with emotions, sounds and inventiveness, a cinema that you wanted and thought for the people. A people full of life, dreams and desires, a people living and standing.
Very early on, you developed a taste for cinema and committed films thanks to your teacher who introduced you to the works of Jean Renoir, Charlie Chaplin and Jean Vigo. You develop a great admiration for Michel Simon who was for you a decisive meeting: it is he who, after a performance, pushes you to the stage.
Another meeting that reinforces the political commitment and radical freedom of your films: the friendship you have forged with Guy Debord, revolutionary activist and father of situationism, enthused by Les Princes, the first part of the trilogy you dedicate to the gypsy people.
Each of your films is a hymn to the freedom and memory of the uprooted, of beings without borders or ties, those “astonishing travellers”, to say it like Baudelaire, “who get drunk / Of space and light and blazing skies”, “rocking their infinity on the sea’s end”. Your work focuses on the singular and frustrated trajectories that always triumph over determinisms and tear themselves away from conformism; it reveals, in all the power of its brilliance, the desire for life, the obstinate and irrepressible drive to move forward.
After The Princes with Gérard Darmon, you realize Latcho Drom, A Certain Look at Cannes, a moving journey through Andalusia, Egypt, Romania, Hungary and Gypsy music, then Gadjo Dilo, that is to say «mad man», as if to better evoke Godard, whom you admire, and his Pierrot the Fool whose incarnate and luminous variations you offer through each of your characters.
In what looks like a documentary, we discover Romain Duris, formidable in the role of Stéphane, and Rona Hartner whom you then gather again to I was born of a stork. You will find Romain Duris for Exiles which earned you the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Darling child of the Festival, you are back in Cannes for Transylania, with Asia Argento, which closes the festivities with joy.
With Freedom, a terrible account of the deportation of the Roma during the Second World War, you speak out against violence and prejudice against human freedom.
What makes the strength of your work and your cinema in motion is the place of music, a full-fledged character, which is in each of your films, a pure revolt and cry of a whole people. A music rich in mixed influences, Gypsy accents and Andalusian rhythms, which reaps all the rewards.
Last year, you offered us Geronimo whose exhilarating and thunderous inaugural scene, of a runaway bride laughing at her throats in the back of an unbridled motorbike, gives the tone and tempo of a solar film to the choreographed violence, between West Side Story and Boda de Sangre, with a Céline Salette, sublime as a neighbourhood educator, in one of her most beautiful roles.
Like the film you are devoting to the work of Stéphane Hessel, your cinema is one of indignation. For you, as for the immense human rights activist: “resisting is creating”! It is for this free and generous cinema; for your work that knocks down all the walls, opens all the horizons and gives the taste of life, that we pay tribute to you tonight. A Republic whose 11 January showed that it was alive and standing.
Dear Tony Gatlif, on behalf of the President of the Republic and by virtue of the powers vested in us, we make you a Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honour.
Dear Jean Becker,
It is a great honour for me to pay tribute today to your immense career: as a child of cinema, you have created, year after year and success after success, a formidable complicity with the French public.
Served by faithful actors, dear to the heart and memory of our fellow citizens, and by universes and intrigues in which they recognize themselves, you are one of the major figures of a popular cinema that makes the 7th art is the French' favorite cultural practice.
For you, cinema is a family story: your father, Jacques Becker, directed some of our most masterpieces, including the unmissable Golden Helmet with Simone Signoret. You have inherited from him the rigour and the requirement of a job well done. Your brother, your sister, were also taken by this same contagious family passion.
By surrounding yourself with the great names of French cinema whose faces live to the rhythm of the audience, you have created a familiar universe for the spectator, so that this family story also becomes a bit his.
We cannot talk about your work without evoking those whose talent you have revealed: Jean-Paul Belmondo, first of all, that you stage in A named Rocca, your first film. Then you reunite the now mythical couple he forms with Jean Seberg for Echappement libre, revisiting their story to offer a more optimistic ending to the spectator, gratified with a «it pleases me!» playful American actress. As for Tendre Voyou, he lets us glimpse the devilishly endearing and terribly devastating character of the «Magnifique».
You also offer Isabelle Adjani one of her most beautiful roles in L'Eté meurtrier with a character of disturbing beauty, Eliane, one of the most subversive female roles in the history of French cinema, which earned her the César for best actress.
It was also you who made Vanessa Paradis the little fiancée of French cinema, in Elisa, a dark and tender film where the camera, captive, has eyes only for the star being born.
After a successful television parenthesis with Les Saintes chéries, you chain the popular hits at a steady pace: from Enfants du marais to Un crime parfait au Paradis, not to mention Effroyables jardins, Jacques Villeret, Suzanne Flon and André Dussollier share the screen, and success, with Thierry Lhermitte, Josiane Balasko, Benoît Magimel, Isabelle Carré and Michel Serrault. You also like, to the delight of the audience, to direct explosive duets, Daniel Auteuil and Jean-Pierre Darroussin in Dialogue avec mon jardinier but also Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus for La Tête en friche.
The French public is always at the rendezvous of your timeless and family cinema, of your humanist comedies which are as many crossings of the landscapes of deep France, of the human comedy and the theatre of feelings. Stories in which the public never fails to recognize itself, where you depict better than anyone the lowliness of the human soul, its mediocrity but also the elegance of heart.
At 80 years old, you have lost nothing of your verve and the charm is far from being broken: your last film, Bon rétablissement, was unanimously prescribed as a remedy against the ambient gloom!
Through your generous and open cinema, whose simplicity goes straight to the heart of the French, You have conquered generations who continue to rush to the release of each of your films for this precious feeling of not coming out quite the same as when they entered.
It is a great honour for me to pay you this evening the tribute of the Republic among all those who admire you, your loved ones, your friends, but also your neighbors, whom I greet (Lionel Jospin, Jacques Toubon).
Through me, it is the French public that today sends you its gratitude for these unforgettable moments that you have made him live during all these years!
Dear Jean Becker, on behalf of the President of the Republic and by virtue of the powers vested in us, we make you an Officer of the Order of the Legion of Honour.