Michael Roemer, eclipse and rebirth of an unidentified filmmaker

Michael Roemer, eclipse and rebirth of an unidentified filmmaker

Donna (Trish Van Devere) and Jo (Brooke Adams) in

The history of cinema is not set in stone, and it sometimes happens that a work that was still unknown until recently hits the cinephile’s conscience head on. It is an event of this order that occurs concerning Michael Roemer, an unidentified American filmmaker, three of whose films appeared out of nowhere and are today distributed by Les Films du Camélia: Nothing but a Man (1964), a vibrant picture of the American black condition, Harry Plotnick alone against all (1970), a caustic New York Jewish comedy, and Revenge Is Mine (1984), feminine drama with gothic accents. If the first two had already been the subject of a French exploitation (in 1966 and in 1990), without leaving many traces, the third, shot for American public television, remained unpublished until then.

To discover them in restored copies, these three films are striking by their unusual beauty, their sensitivity that runs counter to American standards, their subtle articulations and the thickness of the characters. Reached by telephone, their author, now 95 years old, a retired professor from Yale University, makes heard a lively voice and the good-natured tone of one who is still surprised by his career.

The story of Michael Roemer marries the tormented course of the XXe century. Born in Berlin in 1928, in the last fires of the Weimar Republic, he was exfiltrated at the age of 11 in England, thanks to Operation Kindertransport, which saved tens of thousands of Jewish children to place them in foster families. . “I had a difficult childhood in Germany, says the filmmaker. I grew up in a family very disturbed by Nazi legislation preventing my parents, who were Jews, from having access to work. Just before the war, I was lucky enough to be sent to an English school for refugees. I was a good student, a future opened up, and I was able to continue my studies in America. »

On the way to documentary

In 1945, thanks to a scholarship, he landed in Boston (Massachusetts) to join the prestigious Harvard University, from which he graduated in arts four years later, ” with mention “. First tempted by the theater (“I was a very bad actor”), he then falls back on the cinema. “It was at university that I started seeing films, he explains. And for the first time in my life. I absolutely believed in what was happening on the screen. I desperately needed to believe in something. It’s the role of God, normally, but it was difficult to believe in God after the concentration camps. »

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