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Who Is Bernard Tapie?

A "sort of Ted Turner gone bad," a man "who has a heart of gold" but who "can be lethal as well," Bernard Tapie for years has been one of the most infamous men in France, but he remains unknown in the United States. Documaker Marina Zenovich ("Independent's Day") resolved to rectify that situation with this lively, engaging and very personal film.

A “sort of Ted Turner gone bad,” a man “who has a heart of gold” but who “can be lethal as well,” Bernard Tapie for years has been one of the most infamous men in France, but he remains unknown in the United States. Documaker Marina Zenovich (“Independent’s Day”) resolved to rectify that situation and will succeed to an extent with this lively, engaging and very personal film that becomes as much about her own obsession with the man as it is a portrait of him. Already sold to the Sundance Channel and the BBC, pic also is a natural for indie, docu and Francophile fests and events.

Zenovich had never heard of Tapie when she saw him in his first film role in Claude Lelouch’s “Men, Women: A User’s Manual” in 1997. Captivated, she went to Paris and quickly learned of Tapie’s past: That rare species in France, a self-made man, the dashing-looking Tapie rose from the lower middle class to become a singer, hugely successful venture capitalist, crony of President Mitterand and politician himself, talkshow host, record-setting yachtsman and manager of the Marseilles soccer team that became the first from France to win the European Cup. He also was, by the time Zenovich arrived in Paris, a bankrupted ex-con who had served six months for bribing opposing soccer team players to lose.

Shot in aptly off-the-cuff digital video and edited in a zippy style that keeps the entertainment and interest levels high, pic documents its maker’s protracted efforts to reach Tapie and convince him to meet her. Considerable amusing footage is devoted to Zenovich calling Tapie’s number from street pay phones and being put off by his secretary, and later to the persistent Yank, who speaks little French, sitting in a cafe opposite her subject’s home waiting for him to emerge.

Acutely aware that her interest in Tapie could be seen as having reached a disturbingly advanced stage, Zenovich faces the camera to state, “I am not a stalker” and “I’m not in love with him,” but one can readily understand why he is wary of her when she finally manages to confront him outside the theater where he is starring in a stage production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

A gratifyingly detailed impression of Tapie and his dazzling career is conveyed through docu and TV excerpts as well as with articulate assists from Lelouch and a bevy of journalists and writers (Zenovich’s avoidance of any mention of his personal life, save for one passing shot of his wife, could be intriguingly psychoanalyzed). One and all attest to his great charisma and seductive charm, and these qualities come through in spades, lending validity to Zenovich’s obsessive undertaking.

Who Is Bernard Tapie?

Production: A Graceful Pictures presentation. Produced by Marina Zenovich, Vikram Jayanti (U.S.), Frederic Forestier (France). Executive producer, Steven Soderbergh. Co-producers, Eric Buchard, Amanda Estramera, Paul Rachman, James Velaise. Directed by Marina Zenovich.

Crew: Camera (color, digital video), sound, Francois Barthe, Frederic Forestier, Hiroki Miyano, Anne-Laure Plante, Geoffrey Sharp, Zenovich; editors, Martin Apelbaum, Amanda Estremera; additional editing, Carlos Millan, Paul Rachman, Amy Veltman; associate producers, Dietlind Lerner, Plante. Reviewed at L.A. Film Festival, April 26, 2001. Running time: 56 MIN.

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