a filmmaker as big as his country

Clint Eastwood in


If there was a Hollywood version of Mount Rushmore, Clint Eastwood would automatically find his place there, between John Wayne and Gary Cooper. The mineral beauty of his face and the elegant simplicity of his tall silhouette have made him an icon, in the strict sense of the term, a stylized representation made to celebrate a cult, in this case that of American masculinity.

The first merit of the very rich (and yet too brief) film by Clélia Cohen is to restore to Clint Eastwood his infinite complexity: that of a television star (thanks to the series Rawhide) become one of the heralds of the resurrection of cinema, behind and in front of the camera; that of a model of virility who has built great films (On the road to Madison, Million Dollar Baby, The Exchange) around sublime female figures; and, finally, that of a reactionary eternally attracted by the myth of pioneers capable of sensing and staging the ravages of violence in American society and of celebrating its diversity.

Insurmountable contradictions

To this thematic richness must be added the sinuosity of a route whose every detour is unexpected. Drawing on a wealth of archives (including a BBC program made in the 1970s, an edition of James Lipton’s “Actor’s Studio”, and an interview with critic Gene Siskel), Clélia Cohen first details the steps which led Eastwood to the pantheon of film authors.

His childhood in a California upset by the Great Depression (he was born in 1930), his beginnings in Hollywood, aspiring young first under contract with Universal, his long servitude on the sets of Rawhide, his almost accidental exile in Europe, where he reinvented the western hero under the direction of Sergio Leone, his return to the United States in dirty harry : these disparate elements fit together, if not harmoniously, at least logically.

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Insurmountable contradictions remain, which feed The Last Legend end to end. The celebration of the violence of Inspector Harry (1971) spawned the humanist elegy of Gran Torino (2008). The reply with racist overtones addressed to Sacheen Littlefeather, who came to defend the Native American cause at the 1973 Oscars (“I should present this Oscar on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford’s movies”), was spoken by the author of a celebration of African-American creation, bird (1988), Biography of Charlie Parker. The cantor of the American intervention in Grenada (The Master of War1986) dismantled the mechanism of militaristic celebration in Memory of our fathers (2006), built around the famous image of American marines hoisting the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima.

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Clélia Cohen also takes the time to retrace Eastwood’s career in cinema-going geography. Critic Pauline Kael details with cheerful cruelty the absolute detestation that Eastwood, the actor and filmmaker, inspires in her, before Orson Welles praises her in terms as simple as they are enlightening.

It would have taken a few more hours to enter further into other regions of this filmmaker almost as great as his country: his method as a director is evoked through a fascinating extract from a documentary shot on the set of bird, his relationship with the actors is barely touched upon, the time of an intervention by Meryl Streep. All that remains is to resume his filmography, toA chill in the night at CryMacho.

Clint Eastwood, the last legend by Clélia Cohen, (Fr., 2022, 1 h 17.) On Arte.tv, on demand until March 19, 2023.

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