A film lover's tribute to a film lover that will likely only keep the interest of film lovers, Variety critic Todd McCarthy's documentary Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema is particularly memorable for the amazing lineup of directors who weigh in on the titular movie buff's career. It's also a kind of wet dream for devout film fans everywhere: What movie buff wouldn't want to go from critic to art house programmer to new director champion to Cannes emperor and Asian New Wave patron?
For all the stylish cinema its subject facilitated, there's not much style to recommend McCarthy's film, unless one counts the jumpy editing rhythms during its interviews as a nod to the French New Wave. After all, the first of Rissient's many contributions to film history was as assistant director on Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. Rissient's subsequent achievements are related by beneficiaries of his eye for talent like Sydney Pollack, Jerry Schatzberg, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Jane Campion and Hou Hsiao-hsien. Meanwhile, McCarthy accompanies Rissient to his small hometown in the French countryside, where the globetrotting movie industry chameleon discusses regional history with picture-perfect little old French ladies.
Rissient's charm and passion for film are self-evident, particularly when he tells industry anecdotes. One story about trying to keep an aging, boozing John Ford dry during a visit to Paris is especially memorable. It speaks to his many close relationships with film legends and the friendly, personal way he could still interact with them, all the while stoking his fan-boy adoration.
Rissient emerges as a benevolent patron of cinema. First as a discoverer of overlooked classical Hollywood gems, then as a promoter of American independent cinema in the 60s and 70s, and thereafter dedicated to the development of Asian art cinema. At moments, the absence of counter-arguments looms large. Did Rissient ever pull strings against a director he didn't like? Also, fairly late in McCarthy's film several friends chuckle that film and women are Rissient's two great passions, "especially young Asian women." It's an uneasy, potentially creepy moment the film quickly speeds along from, on to the opening of a cinema named for the aging Frenchman.
Old but far from retired, Rissient tries to offer McCarthy some closing remarks, only to be interrupted by his interminably ringing cell phone. He takes the call, and we're left having discovered one of the most independent cogs in the international movie machine, one that's still turning out of sheer passion.