Pierre Rissient, the Gentleman critic

Film still of Gentleman Rissient © RR

In the documentary Gentleman Rissient, Benoît Jacquot, Pascal Mérigeau and Guy Seligmann pay tribute to Pierre Rissient, a figure who cannot be categorised, yet has been a cornerstone of cinephilia for the last sixty years.  

A critic since his early days as a film-loving programmer at the Mac Mahon cinema in Paris during the 1950s, Pierre Rissient has been a fixture of “the Seventh Art” in recent decades.

He bought his strong character to bear as assistant to Jean-Luc Godard for À bout de Souffle (Breathless), as a press agent with Bertand Tavernier, as a distributor, director and executive producer. But his most valuable skill was discovering talent from around the world: Clint Eastwood, Jerry Schatzberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Jane Campion, Abbas Kiarostami, and King Hu – every one of them has stressed the huge respect they have for his “eye”, and the strength of his conviction.

Guy Seligmann answers some quick questions about the documentary:

What was the starting point for this documentary? Why Pierre Rissient?

All three of us have known Pierre for a long time. It was Benoît Jacquot who first had the idea. He asked me to shoot it.

Was Pierre Rissient a willing participant?

He was very enthusiastic about it; he put his faith in us completely.

Clint Eastwood calls him “Mister Everywhere”. Can you explain why?

Clint and Pierre have known each other since the beginning of the 1970s. He has been involved in all Eastwood’s films, from the scriptwriting to the editing – hence the “everywhere”.

Do you focus on the critic or the talent spotter?

Both. Without his critical love of cinema, Pierre would never have found so many unknown film directors.

How have your positioned the documentary in relation to Todd McCarthy’s Man of Cinema: Pierre Rissient?

We knew about it, and did something completely different.

In your opinion, what does tomorrow’s film critic look like?

There are no more “cinephile critics”, and the circulation of ‘Cahiers du cinema’ and ‘Positif’ is sadly limited.