Born: April 25, 1941;

Died: March 25, 2021.

BERTRAND Tavernier, who has died aged 79, was a filmmaker who applied an endless curiosity about human behaviour and the world it exists in to a weighty and expansive vision across almost 40 features that took French cinema beyond the New Wave.

He was perhaps best-known in the UK for such English-language features as ‘Round Midnight (1986), which starred real-life jazz musician Dexter Gordon as an addict saxophonist. Over 40 years as a director, his range embraced everything from slow-burning cop dramas to historical period pieces, all driven by a political sensibility that loomed large.

This was clear from his debut as a director on The Watchmaker of St Paul (1974), which drew from a story by Georges Simenon in its study of a father and the detective searching for his teenage son after he had apparently killed someone.

Corps de Torchon (1981) was adapted from Jim Thompson’s pulp noir novel, Pop.1280, transferring the story’s setting to West Africa in a tale of colonial corruption starring Isabelle Huppert. Both films featured Philippe Noiret, who collaborated with Tavernier several times.

Closer to home, he came to Glasgow to make Death Watch (1980), a bleakly prophetic piece of dystopian speculative fiction based on David G. Compton’s 1973 novel, The Unsleeping Eye. The film, which was shot in 1979, saw Romy Schneider’s dying Katherine pursued by Harvey Keitel’s journalist Roddy, who has had tiny cameras transplanted behind his eyes in order that his round-the-clock filming of Katherine’s apparent final days can be broadcast live on national television.

Writing in 2012, The Observer film critic, Philip French, described Death Watch as a “thoughtful, humanistic [science fiction] fable” and “an exceptional fílm that makes imaginative use of Scottish locations ... it’s as topical today as when it was made.

As Death Watch presaged the all-pervasive mass appeal of reality TV a couple of decades later, the monolithic greyness of an unreconstructed Glasgow in scenes at the Necropolis and a barren-looking city centre gave the film a stately melancholy.

“I remember vividly the shock I had when I discovered Glasgow,” Tavernier told The Herald in 2012 prior to a screening of a restored print of Death Watch at Glasgow Film Festival. “I was much more moved by Glasgow than Edinburgh. It was a city which had a soul, and a past. Maybe it had problems then and it seemed rundown, but it had heart.

“When I saw the Necropolis, I thought I had to use it for a film set in the future. I thought it would be interesting to have a science-fiction film that used 18th- and 19th-century buildings, and that would not have any kind of fake special effects.”

Rene Maurice Bertrand Tavernier was born in Lyon, France, to Genevieve (nee Dumond) and Rene Tavernier, a writer and publicist, who founded pro-Resistance literary journal, Confluences.

Diagnosed with tuberculosis, he spent part of his childhood in a sanatorium. It was here that he became obsessed with film, and while at high school in Paris would visit the cinema with fellow student Volker Schlöndorff, who would also go on to become an internationally renowned director.

Tavernier founded a film club while ostensibly studying law at the Sorbonne, but dropped out when he was hired as an assistant director by Jean-Pierre Melville after interviewing him for his film magazine. He soon became a publicist instead for films directed by the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Agnes Varda. He famously cabled Stanley Kubrick after resigning as French publicist for 2001: A Space Odyssey, saying that as a film-maker he was a genius but as an employer he was an “imbecile”.

The Watchmaker of St Paul introduced a talent more formal than Tavernier’s restless New Wave antecedents, but just as committed. A sense of place was evident in many of his films, which won numerous awards, including an Oscar for Herbie Hancock for the score of Round Midnight, for which Gordon was nominated as best actor.

Other films included A Sunday in the Country (1984), Life and Nothing But (1990), and Daddy Nostalgia (1990), which featured the last screen appearance by Dirk Bogarde.

Tavernier was first and foremost a film fan, who contributed to influential film journal, Cahiers du Cinema, and who championed the work of John Ford and Michael Powell in a way that saw him out-geek Martin Scorsese, who played a small role in Round Midnight.

Later films included the deeply personal Safe Conduct (2002), which looked at the French Resistance against a backdrop of the country’s film industry; and the Louisiana-set murder mystery, In the Electric Mist (2009).

In 2011, he published Le cinéma dans le sang (Cinema in the Blood), in which he reflected on his life in film, both as a director and a viewer. His lifelong love affair with cinema was cemented in his final film, the documentary, My Journey Through French Cinema (2016). He also directed The French Minister (2013), though it was his personal homage to the form itself that lingered.

“I wanted to say thank you to all those filmmakers, writers, composers for the way that they enlightened my life,” he said in an interview at the time My Journey Through French Cinema was released.

“They gave me dreams, gave me passion. And I think I survived – I survived because of the cinema. It gave me hope. The cinema gave me a reason to live.”

He is survived by his wife Sarah, and his two children from his marriage to screenwriter Claudine (Colo) O’Hagen from 1965 to 1980, his son Nils, and his daughter Tiffany.