Runs at Varsity, Fri., Feb. 15–Thurs., Feb. 21. Not rated. 112 minutes.
From André Téchiné (Wild Reeds), The Witnesses dramatizes the early AIDS crisis in France. Being set in the '80s isn't what makes it feel dated; it's just that too many films—and TV movies, for that matter—have been there first and covered the same subject much, much better. Yes, the hunky Sami Bouajila from The Adventures of Felix has a role, but he's overshadowed by Emmanuelle Béart's overly collagened lips and gravity-proof breasts. (There's even a moment when she insists that everyone at their bisexual beach house dance to horrible French '80s pop music, which will make your ears bleed.) Téchiné is nothing but serious about AIDS, of course, but his rent-boy protagonist (Johan Libéreau) doesn't make the leap from sexy young ditz to noble victim. Téchiné scatters his story too thinly across the years and among his characters; it's a survey course on a topic that demands either scholarship or drama, neither of which we get here. Only Michel Blanc (Monsieur Hire), as a gay physician who picks up everyone else's pieces, strikes the right tone: angry, impatient, unhappy in love, and ruthlessly determined to contain the epidemic. Would that the film were as focused.