the bittersweet portrait of a filmmaker with a broke momentum


A notable figure in North American cinema, but with a reduced catalog (seven films between 1974 and 1996), protagonist of “New Hollywood” (with, among others, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg), Michael Cimino (1939-2016) was nevertheless going to be considered as the gravedigger of this “new American wave” after the release of The Gate of Heaven (1980), an oven which was to exceed its initial budget by almost four times.

The fall was all the more severe and unexpected as Cimino had met a multi-Oscar winner with his previous film, Journey to the end of hell (1978). This public and critical failure will make him an outcast, even a victim of the system: Cimino will not sign a single feature film during the four years following the release of The Gate of Heaven and no more in the last twenty years of its existence.

Read: Michael Cimino walks through the gate of Heaven

But, along with others, Oliver Stone, interviewed by Jean-Baptiste Thoret during his beautiful documentary film Michael Cimino, God Bless America, recalls that Cimino was also the victim of his own demands, obsessions and pretensions, and that he would surely have gained in professional longevity by “Make it simpler”. Stone, who co-wrote with Cimino the screenplay for Year of the dragon (1985), comments sadly enough: “I don’t think he got to the end of what he could have done as an artist. “

A great defender of Cimino and specialist in American cinema of the 1970s, the journalist and essayist Jean-Baptiste Thoret had met the director in 2010 for a major interview which was to be published in thees Cinema notebooks October 2011 then be the subject of a book, Michael Cimino, America’s Lost Voices (Flammarion, 2013).

“Hours of conversation”

During their first interview in Los Angeles, Cimino told Thoret: “If you want to understand my films, you have to see the landscapes of my America, the places where I shot, you have to watch the immense skies of Montana and the first snows on the mountains of Colorado. “

Cimino will take the road with the journalist and it will be “Hours of recorded conversation (…), Between highways endless and dinners lost in the hollow of sleeping corn. ” The drawling voice and disillusioned remarks of the filmmaker accompany in voiceover the images of the sublime landscapes of this journey that Jean-Baptiste Thoret returned, ten years later, for his documentary.

Read also: Michael Cimino: out of purgatory?

There is something elegant and bitter in this affectionate portrait of a filmmaker whose momentum was cut short and whose critical message, misunderstood and often misunderstood in his native country, is reminiscent of what he says. ‘police inspector played by Mickey Rourke in Year of the dragon, recalled in his book by Thoret: “The state of American society today is particularly hostile to all reflection and meditation. “

Has this state of affairs changed? We can doubt it. Moreover, the screenwriter and director James Toback ensures, at the end of the documentary: “We will never see another director of this type resurface. Today he would be out of step with everything: his background, his ideas about gender, race and everything else are on the wrong side of the spectrum. “

Michael Cimino, God Bless America, documentary by Jean-Baptiste Thoret (Fr., 2021, 52 min). Available on demand on Arte. TV until July 27.