My Week With Truffaut


I forgot the opening line.
Apart from The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim, I'm not particularly well schooled in François Truffaut films, but finding an 8-movie collection at my local library will change that a little - and I thought I'd describe the results in one thread instead of here and there on the "Rate the Last Movie You Watched" thread. I've been meaning to see more of his work for ages (I felt terribly underprepared when a friend dragged me to a showing of Hitchcock/Truffaut) and so I'm happy to delve right in.

1. THE SOFT SKIN (1964)

The soft skin tells the story of a closeted and repressed scholar, Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) - married and with one child - who falls in love with an airline stewardess, Nicole (Françoise Dorléac) while going to a conference in Lisbon. He really falls madly and deeply in love, complicating his life a great deal - but he's also a little too careful and self-conscious to meet her needs. When his wife discovers he's been lying to her, trouble erupts and it seems that both his marriage and affair are doomed. The film has an eventful ending I won't disclose - but it's mostly a love story. I don't know if Truffaut is completely at ease with this - and he mostly seems to be criticizing the man for his anxieties, repression and dishonesty.

I enjoyed this - Truffaut seems to have a lot of enjoyment in dissecting ordinary moments by doing interesting things with the camera and time itself. Discussing the film, he points out that when Pierre and Nicole are in an elevator together, it takes minutes to reach it's floor, but when Pierre is alone it only takes 20 seconds - time seems slower when he's in the moment, but on film it's literally slower to get this across. There are other moments in the film when time slows down and does this. Something else that comes up over and over again is the typical French harassers, who just walk up to women on the street and try to get it on with them. During one encounter, Pierre's wife Franca explodes when one is trying to pick her up, and shames him in a very satisfying way.

Great performances, and studied filmmaking which makes most of the moments in The Soft Skin interesting. The story is compelling, and characters feel like they have depth. The final act is a real stunner.


Talking with my Truffaut-loving friend after the film, he was particularly eager to discuss the sensational Françoise Dorléac - how heartbreaking she is in The Soft Skin and how great a career she had ahead of her after appearing in The Young Girls of Rochefort and Roman Polanski's Cul-de-sac. Unfortunately, at the age of 25, she died in the most horrific way possible in a car accident - her car flipped over and burst into flames. Françoise tried desperately to open a door, but they were jammed and she burned alive. Her corpse was unidentifiable, and police had to use fragments of her driver's licence and diary to confirm her identity. Chilling.

Tomorrow : Two English Girls (1971)
My movie ratings often go up or down a point or two after more reflection, research and rewatches.

Latest Review : Days of Heaven (1978)

I like Truffaut. I've seen 10 of his films so far. The Soft Skin didn't make much of an impact when I first saw it and it is likely my least favourite of the Truffaut films I have seen. I don't remember much about it, but I rated it a 6/10.

I forgot the opening line.

My literary knowledge was not wide enough to realise that Henri-Pierre Roché, who wrote Two English Girls (Les deux anglaises et le continent) in 1956, had also written Jules and Jim - and that these were the only two novels he ever had published. So in relation to that earlier François Truffaut film, this kind of makes a whole - and is somewhat reminiscent of Jules and Jim, albeit very much it's own film. What a mess distance and immediate presence make when it comes to love - poor Claude (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is invited by young Anne (Kika Markham) to visit her mother and sister Muriel (Stacey Tendeter) - hoping that Claude and Muriel will become an item (the year is 1902). They eventually do - although the course of love with Muriel is somewhat erratic and uncertain. When Muriel is finally sure she wants to marry Claude, Claude's mother steps in to throw a wrench in the works - unhappy with this life choice of his.

In the end it's agreed that they both spend a year apart, and if they still want to marry then nobody will object. After six months, Claude has had enough, starts sowing his wild oats, and sends Muriel a "sorry" letter - which sends the poor girl over the edge into grief. A few years later Anne is visiting Paris when she crosses paths with Claude again. The two slowly get to know each other physically, but decide to also take other lovers - despite the fact that natural jealousies do occur. Eventually, Claude reestablishes contact with Muriel, and as Anne's fervent wish that the two of them end up together still burns just as brightly, and that Muriel still loves Claude passionately, it seems on the cards - but first Anne Must confess to Muriel that she has been Claude's lover for quite some time.

There's nobody quite as attractive as the one in your immediate presence, or the person in which possibility burns brightest in the present. Although the deepest kind of love exists between Claude and Muriel in this film, it's always wrecked by circumstance and distance - and that's the sad part of Two English Girls. To add to the strange real life/fiction autobiographical aspect of the film, Claude published a novel that is obviously Jules and Jim - based on his experiences with Anne and Muriel. It's also interesting to note that Anne and Muriel are based on two of the Brontë siblings, and some of what they say is from quotes attributed to them.

I'm not a huge fan of period dramas, but I do watch the occasional one - I enjoyed this one enough not to be bored, and found the connections it had with Jules and Jim interesting - along with the unusual course of love that exists between the three main characters. For the next few days, I think I'll be asking everyone "If you want to know anything about French literature, ask me" and then fervently hope that they ask me about Henri-Pierre Roché. This was the first colour François Truffaut film I've ever watched - and before I run out of things to say I must add that it's about a "romantic manage-a-trois" because I wanted to say that somewhere within this review.


Tomorrow : A Gorgeous Girl Like Me (1972)

I forgot the opening line.

Here, for the first time, I see François Truffaut being broadly comedic - and it was really great. When I first read a brief plot description for this film, I thought it was about a female serial killer - bumping off various men she ensnares. Instead, it's a comedy about Camille Bliss (the stunning Bernadette Lafont), who is interviewed in prison by sociologist Stanislas Prévine (André Dussollier). Camille tells her life story. How she removed a ladder from an attic one day, which ended up killing her cruel father - leading to her being taken to a reform school for girls. She escapes one day, and is picked up by Clovis Bliss (Philippe Léotard) - he takes her home and hides her in the garage so his mother doesn't discover he's housing (and having sex with) an underage girl. When his mother finds out, she forces the two to marry to avoid any complications with the law. One day, Camille steals a large sum of money which leads to husband and wife fleeing while being shot at by Camille's mother-in-law.

The rest of the story is littered with the various men Camille manipulates using her body - things don't always go her way however, and an attempt to murder her husband and a lawyer who had screwed her over leads to one of her many boyfriends discovering the attempted murder, saving the two men, and dragging her to a high tower. This man, Arthur (Charles Denner) commits suicide by jumping - but nobody believes Camille and she's sent away for murder - the reason she's in prison and being interviewed by Prévine - who is falling in love with her. Prévine ends up proving her innocence, and very unwisely sticks close to Camille, who has taken up a singing career (she a terrible singer, but by now she's famous and a celebrity will always attract an audience.) She gets up to her old tricks again - which leads to tragedy for everyone but Camille.

Bernadette Lafont first appeared in one of Truffaut's early short films - Les mistons (1957) - she's charismatic, beautiful and absolutely wonderful in this film. She's also very funny - when she's not belting out rowdy ditties she's feigning innocence, and pretending to be heartbroken when she thinks her husband has been run over and killed (when she sees he's alive, her face takes on a look of utter annoyance.) I loved her in this film, and it was worth watching again when I'd finished it. Lafont is a force of nature - a bawdy, highly adaptable, and hilarious clown when not being a seductress. She is the movie A Gorgeous Girl Like Me - the most lighthearted film I've seen from Truffaut.


Next : The Last Metro (1980)

I forgot the opening line.
4. THE LAST METRO (1980)

An unusually normal film for Truffaut, the more accessible The Last Metro garnered 10 César Awards in France, sweeping the ceremony, and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars. (The winner was Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, which I hear is a fantastic movie.) I appreciated The Last Metro, but don't count it as one of Truffaut's best films. I can see that it's carefully made however, with mature performances which reach peaks that don't occur in his other films. I might prefer the immature Truffaut to this more measured, mature and solemn filmmaker, but that doesn't mean this film isn't pure quality.

We're in Occupied France, 1942 - The Théâtre Montmartre is being run by Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve), her Jewish husband having ostensibly fled the country. There, a new play is being produced, and among the cast is the handsome Bernard Granger (Gérard Depardieu) - but what nobody knows is the fact that Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent), Marion's husband, is actually hiding in the theatre's basement, listening in on rehearsals and planning his exit from France - all the while the tensions of Nazi-occupied life, hiding her husband, and producing the play eat away at Marion and the rest of the theatre staff. In the meantime, anti-Semite French theatre critic Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard) tries to manoeuvre the theatre out of Marion's hands.

There's no huge, explosive event in The Last Metro - it's all about the stress of living under Nazi control. The deprivations, and careful considerations which made life so difficult for French artists at a time where any offense could incur harsh penalties. "The Last Metro" refers to the literal last train home for workers and civilians, lest they be caught on the streets after curfew and be arrested. This constant state of fear drains the life out of ordinary French people, and especially those working at the Théâtre Montmartre. Truffaut lived through the occupation as a boy, and wanted to show the generation of French people living in it's shadow what this was like. The film has such great performances, and is so technically excellent, that it stands as a very mature and weighty film which was the toast of 1980.


Next : The Woman Next Door (1981)

I forgot the opening line.

We're back to romantic drama with Truffaut's The Woman Next Door, although there are psychological aspects to it - it's a film which is always on edge because of the uncomfortable situation the main characters are put through. What would it like be like if an ex-lover you had a passion for but ultimately drove you mad moved in next door? You'd probably go mad again, just like Bernard Coudray (Gérard Depardieu) and Mathilde Bauchard (Fanny Ardant) do in this movie. Bit by bit, we learn of their past and how tumultuous it was - and now that the married Mathilde has suddenly appeared, Bernard (who is also married, and has two kids) can't keep away from her, despite trying.

It's a case of two lovers who can't be together, but can't stay away from each other. Just when one succeeds, the other breaks down. All of the sudden both spouses have to start inventing lies and excuses - all the while having to contend with their own jealousies and mental instability. The story is told to us by Bernard's older friend, Madame Odile Jouve (Véronique Silver) who during the story receives word that her past love is coming to see her. He's the reason she needs a cane to walk (she once jumped out of a window for him) and she leaves town rather than let him see her - providing a juxtaposition to the couple that are seeing each other again - inadvisably.

The two main performances in this are great ones, and we cover much ground psychologically - from passion and love to torture, need, jealousy and depression. It would be rare for this to happen - an ex-lover accidentally moving in next door - but the conceit is worth what it gives to us. The ability to see just how unhealthy it is to remain close to someone you're in a toxic relationship with. It takes a lot to forget those certain people - and it's hard to stay away. You should only hope fate does not convene to bring you together again. Especially if you already have a loving spouse and kids.

I really enjoyed this particular Truffaut film (his penultimate) and thought it was very well made and acted. Fanny Ardant is terrific - and this comes with my recommendation.


Next : Confidentially Yours (1983)

I forgot the opening line.
(Otherwise known as Finally, Sunday!)

How are you with those films that involve complex mysteries - the ones where you need to learn all the names and follow each plot development closely lest you get lost? I keep the pause and rewind buttons handy, along with Wikipedia plot descriptions and IMDb lists of actors and their characters' names. Confidentially Yours was Truffaut's very last film before his death, and it looks like some kind of ode to Alfred Hitchcock films. It's in black and white and looks like an old 50s/60s mystery film - with the mood kept light and the beautiful Fanny Ardant featuring alongside Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Barbara Becker (Ardant) works at a real estate agency owned and run by Julien Vercel (Trintignant) who has just returned from duck hunting. Also duck hunting that day was a guy by the name of Massoulier, and he's been killed by someone with a shotgun. The cops suspect Vercel - he left a handprint on Massoulier's car, and his wife had been having an affair with him. After being questioned by police, Vercel returns home, argues with his wife (who confesses the affair) and is arrested again, but helped out by his lawyer, Maître Clément (Philippe Laudenbach) and driven home. Later that evening, Vercel runs into Barbara and tells her that when he got home, he discovered his wife murdered. Barbara decides to take on this mystery herself, like a detective. She'll discover that Vercel's wife wasn't who she claimed to be, and become involved in intrigue that includes a brothel, gangsters, a priest, a private detective agency and a woman who works at a cinema. Leads and dead ends are run down as Vercel tries desperately to hide from the police until they discover what's going on.

Confidentially Yours has a great atmosphere, and is one of those films where if you love these kind of mystery movies you'll absolutely love it - but if you don't and become lost easy it might drive you mad. I really liked it - the cinematography and score are neat, and Truffaut really throws us back to a previous era. The plot did give me a headache however, and I'm still not sure how the ending worked itself out despite staying with it most of the way. I'll have to watch it again and pay closer attention.


Next : Jules and Jim (1962) and The 400 Blows (1959)

I forgot the opening line.
7. JULES AND JIM (1962)

There's nothing I can really say about Jules and Jim that hasn't been said before. One of the greatest ever films about friendship, based on Henri-Pierre Roché's semi-autobiographical novel. Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner and Henri Serre are brilliant, and the film sears itself into your memory (or at least, it did mine) to remain there for all time. While friendship is a happy theme to have, the film is overwhelmingly sad and contains one of the strangest love triangles I've ever seen in cinema.

Jules (Oskar Werner) and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) marry - but war intervenes, and when things settle down in peace-time, Jules' best friend, Jim (Henri Serre) comes to stay. Despite having a daughter, Jules knows the the flighty Catherine is on the verge of leaving him and actually asks his friend to have an affair with her. If Catherine and Jim hit it off, perhaps the three of them can stay together, which would be an acceptable state of affairs for Jules. But of course, love amongst three - especially when outside influences intervene, is more emotionally demanding then love between two.

The way we follow the friendship between Jules and Jim - with the help of narration - gives us an intimate view of their close friendship from the day it was formed onwards. It makes for a sweet film - with visual panache and beautiful music. It's an all-round gem, and everyone should watch it at least once.


8. THE 400 BLOWS (1959)

I didn't watch The 400 Blows again since I've seen it quite a few times, and I didn't have the time to squeeze it in. It's, of course, a masterful study of adolescence, rejection, loneliness, fear, rebelliousness, wrath and sadness. One of the greatest debuts from any mid-20th Century filmmaker.


And there we go. I've found that writing something about the films I watch really enhances what I get out of them, and also makes them more interesting for me. I probably missed a lot of good Truffaut films here - but I had to stick with what the collection gave me. I can now proudly say I've seen 8 of his feature films though, along with Fahrenheit 451 (1966) a long time ago.

I forgot the opening line.
I have never even heard of his version of Confidentially Yours

I clearly need to try harder at being an expert.
Before doing this, I'd say I hadn't heard of around 75% of Truffaut's films altogether - so I'm excelling at being an amateur. I really like those little moments when I can add to someone's film knowledge though - unless that was a joke that went over my head, in which case I feel mighty foolish.

Although Confidentially Yours wasn't the best out of the bunch I watched, I still recommend it if you enjoy that kind of mystery film.