Bon vivant, ranconteur, and legendary producteur Daniel Toscan du Plantier passed away in 2003, but his flamboyant personality lives on in the hours of TV interviews assembled in Isabelle Partriot-Piere’s docu, “Toscan: The French Touch.” As head of Gaumont in the ’70s and ’80s, Toscan du Plantier oversaw works by Fellini, Bergman and Kurosawa, and then worked independently, nabbing the Palme d’Or for Maurice Pialat’s controversial “Under the Sun of Satan.” The latter’s Cannes press conference is one of many juicy bytes in a film that could touch cinephiles eager to see a producer put his mouth where his money is.
With his aristocratic accent and cutting humor, Toscan du Plantier was for many decades the unofficial face of the French film industry, both at home when he ran Gaumont and abroad as president of Unifrance. He was also one of the rare producers who spoke freely about the metier’s oxymoronic mix of commerce and art, claiming in all truthfulness that his job was to “preside over failures.”
Rather than an approach that would have friends and colleagues remembering the man, opera set designer Partriot-Piere simply has the man speak for himself. And like a true Frenchman, speak he does — on just about anything, but mostly about movies (calling Rossellini the “Diderot of cinema”), music (how he produced Joseph Losey’s “Don Giovanni”), women (about longtime g.f. Isabelle Huppert), and his own unquenchable appetite to create.
Among his multiple appearances on talkshows and news programs, one of the most memorable is his passionate defense of “The Last Temptation of Christ” during a mock TV trial that pitted him against intellectuals who supported the pic’s theatrical boycott. A later tidbit evokes the scandale d’auteur that Pialat’s “Satan” was met with at Cannes, featuring the helmer’s famous Palme acceptance speech where he waved at the booers and said, “If you don’t like me, well, I don’t like you either.”
What’s missing amid all the footage is an easily identifiable career chronology, and perhaps one or two more critical viewpoints from third parties. But then again, the self-deprecating and self-promoting producer seemed to be all parties at once, inviting the rest of us to savor his wit and wisdom.