Teatro Auditorium Manzoni > 11:15


Alain Tanner
Introduced by

Renato Berta and Frédéric Maire (Cinémathèque Suisse)



Sunday 30/08/2020


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

This first feature-length fiction film by Alain Tanner marked the great awakening of Swiss cinema. The film was produced through the Group 5, founded in 1968 by Tanner, Goretta, Jean-Louis Roy, Michel Soutter and Jean-Jacques Lagrange. This group (as Freddy Buache recalls, in Le Cinéma suisse) was “not a production company” but “a useful vehicle for collaboration”, which in this case, obtained a subsidy from French-speaking Swiss television for a film made by each of the members of the group, who would then take on, individually, though sometimes with federal aid, the rest of the production risks. Charles mort ou vif can be defined as a protest poem, corrosively tender, melancholic to the point of despair. Its main idea was to be embodied, not in a teenager or a young character, but in a man in his 60s who is taking stock of his life, who questions himself without complacency and wants to go back to zero. This zero in question, as you can imagine, is very difficult to achieve. Tanner describes the 1968 protest as a sudden depression in the midst of well-being, as dissatisfaction arising from satiety; it was logical that the truest expression of this was coming from Switzerland. Tanner’s talent is already there in full force: the film’s episodes are born with fantasy, with a strong sense of the unexpected and the truthful, from a kind of emptiness comparable to the painter’s blank canvas. This art of invention and juggling fears, seriousness and will, if necessary, seek truth beyond realism. Sometimes this emptiness from which the film emerges attracts and absorbs it, and the film expresses, more than anything else, the allure of the void – as would be more and more evident in Tanner’s later works and especially in Messidor. Charles mort ou vif also revealed a very great actor: François Simon, a worthy son to his father Michel, but totally unknown outside the Swiss borders. His tormented, precious, pathetic, funny and unfailingly unusual style gives the film its essential tone.

Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinema: les films, Laffont, Paris 1992

My report on May ’68 was the last before Charles was made. Inevitably, there were direct references, a very deep echo in the script I was writing. A very simple subject at the start: a man who reinvents himself… and then, here, suddenly, a country also tries to reinvent itself! I realised – at the end of the day – that May ’68 was more a theatrical event than a political one. A gigantic happening in the street. Part of the population was acting out the revolution, perhaps the dress rehearsal. I made the film very spontaneously and it came at the right time.

Alain Tanner in Michel Boujut, L’objectivité empêche le Pari sur l’Avenir, “Jeune Cinéma” n. 60, January 1972

Cast and Credits

int.: Charles dead or alive. Sog., Scen.: Alain Tanner. F.: Renato Berta. M.: Sylvia Bachmann. Mus.: Jacques Olivier. Int.: François Simon (Charles Dé), Marcel Robert (Paul), Marie-Claire Dufour (Adeline), André Schmidt (Pierre Dé), Maya Simon (Marianne Dé), Michèle Martel (Germaine), Walter Schochli (il detective). Prod.: Groupe 5, SSR TV. DCP. D.: 94’. Bn.


Director: Jacques Rozier
Year: 1963
Country: Francia
Running time: 8'