Les Mistons

Later on this is La Mariée était en noir.

It’s the war looked at from the vantage point of Robbe-Grillet’s Le Voyeur in the stadium at Nîmes.

Two shots prepare the witness of a tree canopy. The old man gets his hose stepped on and returns fire (Bernadette crosses in the foreground). The town between the railings of two railway cars like frames of film is glimpsed.

Russell pays homage to the opening shot in French Dressing.


Les Quatre cents coups

A dramatic illustration of Hitchcock’s advice to young filmmakers, “stay out of jail.”

“A film signed Frankness. Rapidity. Art. Novelty. Cinematograph. Originality. Impertinence. Seriousness. Tragedy. Renovation. Ubu-Roi. Fantasy. Ferocity. Affection. Universality. Tenderness.” (Godard)

“I am very familiar with the French critic as protester, off to tilt at the windmills of the Gaumont Théâtre chain; the constant spoiler who breaks up the game. I know him very well; I was he, or at least one of them, from 1954 to 1958, always ready to defend the widow Dovzhenko, Bresson the orphan. I had noticed, for example, at the Cannes Festival in 1958 that the flower vases placed in front of the screen to add a festive air were arranged to offer the best effect for the official spectators in the balcony, but that they blocked the subtitles for the mere movie lovers in the first ten rows of the orchestra. That was all I needed to call the directors of the Festival a lot of bad names. They grew so tired of my incessant attacks that eventually they asked my editor-in-chief to send another reporter the following year. I was back in Cannes in 1959 for the Festival, but I was seated in the balcony for Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows). From that perspective, I could appreciate unreservedly the lovely effect of the flowers in front of the screen....” (Truffaut)


Tirez sur le pianiste

A concert career is absurd and impossible, “À la Bonne Franquette” simply multiplies the interlopers in a film close to Rossen’s The Hustler, in a way. “Please don’t shoot the piano player, he’s doing his best.”

One of Godard’s Ten Best Films that year, with Chabrol, Nicholas Ray, Donen, Mizoguchi, Fritz Lang, Buñuel, Dovzhenko, Hitchcock and Cocteau.


Jules et Jim

The Austrian visitor, a tale very much like Accident (dir. Joseph Losey).

Very beautiful score by Georges Delerue.

Zinnemann’s Behold a Pale Horse is there for the comparison, as an analysis.

Lumet has Lovin’ Molly, likewise.


Antoine et Colette
L’amour à vingt ans

He spies her at a Berlioz concert, Symphonie Fantastique.


La Peau douce

For the title, Dorléac, but also finally Desailly at the Val d’Isère, with a shotgun at his regular table.

The celebrated publisher and author whose Paris firm is incredibly called Ratures (“Crossouts”) lectures on “Balzac and Money” (title of a book) and Marc Allégret’s Gide, conducts an affair with a stewardess on the Lisbon run, it ends unhappily, and so does he.

The most formidable technique ever displayed in any film is quite modest at the same time, pausing for a cut to save time when a continuous shot would have been imaginable, with the full range of erudition available for a very tight arrangement of very exact expression.



Fahrenheit 451

The state of illiteracy (Pabst unburns Don Quixote, the first book seized).

The book-burners came to France, of course (young Truffaut greatly admired Carné’s Les Visiteurs du Soir and even more Clouzot’s Le Corbeau, “I used to go to see it several times a year... eventually I knew the dialogue by heart”).

Kafka and especially Orwell play a large part in the construction. One of the most beautiful scores in the cinema is on an equal footing with the cinematography and the design as well as the drama and the actors.

Renoir’s This Land Is Mine for the schoolteacher’s plight, and at the school there is the very Hitchcockian scene in the corridor, amidst a full and complete technique, quite varied.

Truffaut quotes Henry Miller as a superscription to Films de ma vie, in the film it’s “these books were alive, they spoke to me” (the other quote, from Orson Welles, is paraphrased by Montag and reads, “I believe a work is good to the degree that it expresses the man who created it”).


La Mariée était en noir

Her bridegroom dies on their wedding day due to drunken inadvertence, she must wade through unseemly bachelors to gain her revenge.

The well-to-do young playboy (about to settle down) plummets, the shy impoverished type drinks poison, the would-be politician and phonybaloney family man gets locked in under the stairs, the crook is arrested, the phonybaloney artist (his drawings are ever so precise, the paintings bland and secondary) dies skewered with a model’s prop (Diana’s arrow), the crook is found again in prison (he deals in stolen cars at his junkyard, dumps the old plates and applies a coat of paint) and dispatched.

These satirical portraits are the main business. Various Hitchcock jokes mainly center on Foreign Correspondent (the church steps, the fall).

An excellent New York dub has Moreau (The Bride Wore Black).


Baisers volés

Le Grand Cocu, or the mystery unveiled.

Doinel is absent without leave so much the army sends him home, where he’s back where he was when last seen à vingt ans (Colette married Albert, they have a child). A detective agency opens his eyes and takes him on and shows him the ropes and opens a few doors for him, in a manner of speaking.

In the end, he’s about to settle down for good and all.

“Dedicated to the Cinémathèque Française of Henri Langlois”, whose Musée du Cinéma is seen from the outside at the outset, closed, that is to say relâche.


Mississippi Mermaid

Maslin, a very poor film critic, fairly dropped her knickers in a rare burst of enthusiasm, and that is a great testament to the skillfulness and depth of insight shown by Truffaut.

The locations are enough to carry anyone away, La Réunion, Antibes, Lyon, but not Paris.

The Ewig-Weibliche, to be sure, and that in a monstrous way (the “sirène” of the title is a ship’s whistle no-one notices in Robbe-Grillet’s Le Voyeur, here she arrives aboard the Mississippi, answering a personal ad).

It ends amidst the snows in a truly fictional element of love conquering all. Widescreen and color make pictures of the places, Antoine Duhamel’s score is excellent.


L’Enfant sauvage

An irreproachable evocation of 1798 in town or country, centered on Chardin, around the tale of a boy who frightened a woman and was then laboriously taught to say, in what one critic has described as “an unforgettable voice”, the word “milk”, and even to spell it.


Domicile conjugal

The Strangler who impersonates Delphine Seyrig in L’Année dernière à Marienbad and Baisers volés is easily identified with married Doinel’s Japanese mistress in a very serious film almost entirely made of jokes, as befits the title, like the one about the fellow who won’t leave his apartment until Marshal what’s-his-name is buried at Verdun (“Pétain”).

The entire entanglement is presented in a few seconds as a Tati jest.

“Colorizing” flowers, playing with toy boats in a model harbor for an American firm working on silt, these are occupations indeed for an aspiring novelist.


Deux Anglaises et le continent

The joke, which is practically untranslatable, rests on the Frenchman’s nickname, its untowardness leads the two English girls to call him “la France” instead.

One is very recessive, practically introverted, and eventually becomes a teacher of English at Brussels.

The other is more outgoing, admires Rodin, sculpts in Paris, but dies of tuberculosis at home in Wales.

And so the allegory, or commentary, on Anglo-French relations in the larger European sphere. There are many ruminative details, the period is around the turn of the century up to the First World War.

The two main scenic involvements are an elaborate evocation of the lovers’ waterside shack in Chaplin’s Modern Times for the Swiss rencontre, and more obscurely perhaps the cliffside hotel in Leslie Arliss’ Love Story for the girls’ home (also in Switzerland, “the walls of Jericho” from Capra’s It Happened One Night).


Une Belle fille comme moi

On a doctoral thesis, La Femme criminelle, announced but not published, explaining why.

Critics did not take kindly to this, the reasons are not far to seek, what critic does not fancy himself, among other things, a great sociologist?

Truffaut’s answer to LeRoy’s The Bad Seed is a Frenchwoman who eases herself of her adversaries like Joan of Arc.

From the author of several works filmed by Robert Aldrich, among other things.


La Nuit américaine

Ferrand’s Je Vous présente Paméla has a boy and a girl meet his parents, father and girl depart in love, she dies on a dark mountain road, boy kills father.

Truffaut’s La Nuit américaine is about the making of this film, the drama is illuminated by the actors. Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Aumont) is an old poof who wants to adopt his tennis player “so that my name will live on” (cf. Dreyer’s Michael), Julie (Jacqueline Bisset) has married the doctor who left his wife and family to “help her meet her responsibilities” after a nervous breakdown, Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is “just a kid” whose next assignment is Turgenev’s First Love in Tokyo “with a Japanese girl”, as Ferrand advises.

The non-film behind the scenes expresses the precariousness of art both in the making and in the response. Julie sleeps with Alphonse so he doesn’t leave the film (cf. Bertolucci’s Luna) after the girlfriend he put on the crew leaves him for a stunt man, Alexandre dies in a traffic accident. Ferrand (played by Truffaut) has a rigid shooting schedule imposed on him by the American backers.

The title refers to the mountain scene shot with the stunt man in dress and wig on location by daylight with a filter over the lens suggesting night, “day for night”.

The tragedy is the end of studio filming with Alexandre, henceforth Ferrand sees only “cameras in the streets with non–stars”.

Bryan Forbes’ The Madwoman of Chaillot set at La Victorine in Nice is the occasion of this pensive thought.

Schaffner’s The War Lord is suggested by the siege apparatus set up for a bit of dialogue across the way. The car must be painted blue or a blue substitute found, a nice way of adducing Madame Bovary. Ferrand is very calm but dreams at night of a boy with a cane pilfering a stack of lobby stills from a theater showing Citizen Kane.

Valentina Cortese as Séverine, the actress playing the mother, has a son at home dying of leukemia, she walks through her scene on champagne, interrupted by the maid and chastising her husband properly but opening a closet door at the end instead of the one to the kitchen (she has worked with Fellini), over and over again, each time playing the scene a little differently, until she becomes distraught and shooting is canceled for the day.

Alphonse is a great filmgoer, the 36 cinemas of Nice have no attraction for his clapper girl, she has a list of fancy restaurants from the unit’s “ideally bald” still photographer, who has to be rebuked by Ferrand on the set for endangering the film.

The Godfather seems to be playing everywhere, so Ferrand doesn’t go either, he presumably reads his newly-arrived books on Bergman, Bresson and Buñuel.

A passenger jet taking off from the airport nearby is the image of perfection, wistful at first, then necessary.

The unit production manager’s jealous wife screams like the anxious mother in Hitchcock’s The Birds, “you’re all immoral!”


L’Histoire d’Adèle H.

The sufficient critique and analysis, after all, is by Karel Reisz, Harold Pinter and John Fowles in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.


L’Argent de poche

“Until the day he dies, an artist doubts himself deeply, even while he is being showered with his contemporaries’ praise. When he tries to protect himself from attack or indifference, is it his work he defends or treats as if it were a threatened child or is it himself? Marcel Proust answered it this way: ‘I am so convinced that a work is something that, once it has come forth from us, is worth more than we are, that I find it quite natural to sacrifice myself for it as a father would for his child. But this idea must not lead me to address others about what can, unfortunately, only interest me.’” (Truffaut)

Certain aspects of the métier, acting can’t be taught in schools, what theaters are like, not far from fairgrounds, etc.

The critical response goes from “warm, human” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times) to “gross sentimentality” (Time Out Film Guide), with Canby in the New York Times noting the Antoine Doinel theme.

It’s said that Welles and Cocteau and their confreres talked nothing but money at lunch, the rest they had already. Friese-Greene dies (in John Boulting’s The Magic Box) with just the price of a cinema seat in his pocket. So Halliwell’s Film Guide on Small Change, “competent if rather ordinary little portmanteau which one can’t imagine adults actually paying to see.”


l’homme qui aimait les femmes

He speaks in the voice of la Bête (Cocteau).

The title is a lady editor’s invention for his book.

His funeral attended by none but ladies is the same as Lumet’s Bye Bye Braverman.

“It’s too specialized a subject to interest publishers.”

Poetic feet, poetic occasions, comprise the style and material of his book, “une trace”, as René Char says.


La chambre verte

The form works tremendously well at hiding the structure, which is that of a joke. A man who has seen the trench fighting and afterward lost his wife to death is a marvelous counter on the board, the long setup finally reveals itself in the pivot, love is stronger than death.

Some of this is recognizable from Hitchcock as Rebecca or The Birds (Truffaut’s manifold take in the Massigny shrine), there is also an evocation of Lang’s Der müde Tod that is very important for the form.

Vincent Canby (New York Times) could not understand it (“maddeningly vague and ambiguous in its details”) but felt the effort worthy of respect (“a most demanding, original work... one must meet it on its own terms, without expectations of casual pleasures”). Time Out Film Guide regards the film as a “failure” on similar grounds.

“Truffaut is attempting a philosophical disquisition”, says Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) attempting a philosophical disquisition, “dead-ends in sheer neurosis,” his final word is “stillborn”.

Film4 compares it to L’Enfant sauvage, “a more accessible film”, says “it seems his darkest work,” and concludes with “truly disconcerting.”

The acumen is in the editing when his late wife’s ring is shown to the soldier and the girl’s face mirrors the whole scene like the pea in the nutshell finally turning up.


L’Amour en fuite

In divorce with Christine, on the outs with Sabine, who should turn up but Colette, childless, divorced, a fledgling lawyer, to her Antoine?

That is hardly a serious matter in the complicated fiction (les salades de l’amour, his semi-autobiographical novel), as one of its puppets observes.

Rather the total fragmented analysis is considered as disposable, but not a cherished face.

The Napoleon of the bookshop for Colette, Christine (split off from Liliane) to her ways, Sabine (Napoleon’s sister) for Antoine.


Le Dernier métro

You ask a girl for her number and get the Time Lady (l’horloge parlante), a venerable joke. Madame was a great hit in The Cherry Orchard, she’s now in charge of Théâtre Montmartre, Jews are proscribed by the Occupation (the fate of Rosen, the actor, is discussed behind a Family Plot closed door). M. Steiner is in the cellar supervising things for the duration by way of a vent that brings him Paris air from the stage.

The new play is La Disparue, translated from the Norwegian mindful of critics, among whom the most potent is Daxiat, a French Nazi with a poison pen for the mysterious quanta of Judaism or female thinking on the stage (the portrait seemingly draws upon Ellsworth M. Toohey in King Vidor’s The Fountainhead).

Letters of denunciation fly about the city, and the director of Fahrenheit 451 is in a prime position, having bided his time, to calmly suggest the entire vraisemblance of a film that takes place mainly in the theater (Madame’s hotel, Nazi HQ, and a church also figure). Truffaut’s delay, among his perpetual “four or five projects at once”, may account in part for the uncommonly rich allusions brought to bear, Gaslight once seen in London by Steiner and nearly bought for the company, The Bicycle Thief related in an anecdote, Madame de... briefly suggested, Gone with the Wind waiting at the bookshop, A Star Is Born, even, and there are many other instances.

Steiner hides (“he had no choice”), the new leading man gets the Time Lady, strikes out with theatrical frotteuses, influences the play, belongs to a Resistance group (he borrows Madame’s portable record-player to blow up Admiral Froelich), ejects Daxiat from a restaurant where the troupe is dining (the theater is investigated for “fictitious Aryanization” in the transfer of ownership from Steiner to Madame as a result), falls in love with Madame (who reciprocates), and joins the Resistance full-time.

The play is a hit, not counting Daxiat’s scurrilous review. The “suffering and joy” brought to the hero by his love for the heroine are the conventional symbols of theatrical endeavor.

The leading lady’s lines are fed to her out of her own mouth for the next play, The Magic Mountain, in a gag from La Nuit américaine. Steiner’s planned escape route is the one taken by Schoenberg (Truffaut tells us the inspiration for The Last Metro was the thought of Jouvet, if he had stayed). Vivement dimanche! is a complete essential reworking of the material.


La Femme d’à coté

In Grenoble, one does not fly the big planes or sail the great ships, one is an air traffic controller or a merchant marine instructor, tooling about a lake on scale models with a wavemaking machine creating a swell, and in any case one lives in the suburbs (pace G.B.S.).

Lacoste shirts, Lacoste rackets at the tennis club, it’s enough to drive you mad or make you wish you were dead.

Truffaut’s characters go mad and die, he sets up the satire like Bergman in The Touch, Browning’s The Unknown is an archetype of thwarted passion recounted in the script.

Critics were completely mystified but not averse. Canby saw “a love story of almost self-effacing mastery” (New York Times), Ebert “a profoundly Hitchcockian film” (Chicago Sun-Times).

“Rather uninteresting melodrama with a failure to communicate its apparent personal interest for the director” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).

“A long way from Hitchcock (or Chabrol), but a consistently watchable sub-thriller none the less” (Time Out Film Guide).


Vivement dimanche!

Truffaut’s grand masterpiece is continuously arranged to give account of Hitchcock’s style by various means. The film’s stance is modestly and usefully placed in the film noir of another disciple, John Huston, which allows Truffaut instantaneous flexibility of movement, through the murdered wife (a Dietrich blonde) and L’Ange Rouge to Der Blaue Engel, for example.

The Red Angel is a nightclub in Nice that used to be her beauty salon, a new branch in her small town used to be a Vietnamese restaurant (named for the unit’s makeup artist). Down the street, the Eden Cinema is a business front currently showing Paths of Glory and Sorcerer.

A man is killed while duck-hunting, the husband is suspected, he runs a real estate agency in the town. His wife is found dead next, the murdered man’s lover. The defense lawyer looks forward to pleading a crime of passion.

Two more victims account for the management of a prostitution ring behind the false fronts. Much of this is uncovered by the suspect’s secretary, who is rehearsing an amateur performance of Le Roi s’amuse in her free time.

The very best criticism of Hitchcock is offered, a unique example of suspense and flair articulating the expression of the theme.

The young police inspector’s trouble with a faucet, the dog-grooming shop near the agency, the recurring theme of the Provençal newspaper in various guises and contexts, the suspect’s isolation in hiding, are among the many fascinating details in a film that avails itself of Hitchcock’s entire panoply.

The title might be translated, Hurry Sunday!.