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Francois Truffaut

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Francois Truffaut

Postby kingrat » August 13th, 2013, 6:57 pm

Although we have had separate threads on THE BRIDE WORE BLACK and DAY FOR NIGHT, and much good discussion on both, we have not had a separate thread devoted generally to the films of Francois Truffaut. Our group has a wide divergence of opinion. MichiganJ (and we miss hearing from him) named Truffaut as one of his five favorite directors, whereas Masha can’t stand his films. She has referenced his style of editing as one reason, but we would love to hear more. ChiO once remarked in passing that Truffaut’s films at one time could do no wrong for him, which suggests that the romance may have cooled at some point. During TCM’s month-long retrospective, I caught up with several films I hadn’t seen, which have given me a little more perspective on his later career. I must confess that I could now be called “The Man Who Didn’t Love THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN,” though I’m not quite ready to join Masha completely. Here are some general thoughts and possible springboards for discussion:

--Few filmmakers have ever had their first three films be so enthusiastically adopted by a large international audience. Does Truffaut’s later work live up to or go beyond them, or did he fail to live up to that promise?

--Truffaut’s films have been far more available to American audiences that the works of many of his contemporaries. How different would our picture be of his work, and theirs, if the films of Andrzej Wajda and Satyajit Ray, to name only two, had been shown just as frequently in America?

--Despite Truffaut’s book on Hitchcock, does his work actually show much influence by Hitchcock? Aren’t the suspense and tension which are the essence of Hitchcock frequently absent in Truffaut? Despite his admiration for American genre films, I would say that Truffaut’s strengths and interests as a filmmaker are primarily outside the realm of genre films.

--To use a term from horse racing, Truffaut’s films often seem “one-paced” to me. The films don’t alternate fast and slow parts, and they usually move at the same pace. He seems to prefer a lot of short scenes. One-paced horses can win races, but they need to be fairly close to the pace unless it’s really fast, because they can’t accelerate with a sudden burst of speed.

--Unlike many of his contemporaries, Truffaut in his later films doesn’t often foreground his directorial choices. The lovely tracking shot from the lake past the island in TWO ENGLISH GIRLS is one of the exceptions. In fact, some of his later films could be the work of the “tradition of quality” he had initially rejected (say, THE STORY OF ADELE H., THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN, THE LAST METRO, for instance). This is neither a plus nor a minus for me—I think THE STORY OF ADELE H. is one of his best films, and THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN one of the weakest—but it’s worth noting in the case of someone who as a critic had exalted the role of the director.

--Is there much emotional depth in Truffaut’s films? Truffaut keeps a certain emotional distance—which can be a plus for certain kinds of films or scenes—and doesn’t tell us what to think of his characters, a plus, but the stories sometimes suggest the possibilities of depths which Truffaut doesn’t plumb. TWO ENGLISH GIRLS has a story which Max Ophuls could have made as heartbreaking as LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN and THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE, and the cinematography by Nestor Almendros and the music by Georges Delerue are magnificent, but the directing and the acting, especially of the three principals, leave something to be desired, in my view. LA CHAMBRE VERT (THE GREEN ROOM, aka THE VANISHING FIANCEE) is a partial exception, although the story still feels underdevloped to me.

Please feel free to plunge in and offer your own thoughts about Truffaut in general or any of his films in particular.

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Joined: August 20th, 2009, 2:46 pm

Re: Francois Truffaut

Postby kingrat » September 13th, 2013, 7:00 pm

Thinking about Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid sharpens my appreciation of Hitchcock. MM is a fairly interesting film, with location work on Reunion Island and two attractive stars in Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve. Why isn’t it as good as most Hitchcock films? For all Truffaut’s adulation of Hitchcock, what is missing?

1 – Hitchcock spent plenty of time sharpening and polishing the script, working with the writers to make each piece fit. As seems to be typical of Truffaut, he has a workable central idea which doesn’t seem fully developed. It doesn’t seem to occur to Truffaut that if he wants a certain reaction from the audience in the last act (like swallowing an improbable love story), he needs to begin working on this from the beginning.

2 – This point is related to the first. Hitchcock storyboards. I’m not sure if you can make a Hitchcockian film if you don’t. Hitchcock plans the edits before he films. Though I’m unfamiliar with Truffaut’s methods, he doesn’t seem to aspire to this level of control.

3 – Because Hitchcock has always thought about the audience, he understands the necessary variety of pacing, and he knows everything there is to know about tension in films. Truffaut’s films are one-paced, with little variation in tempo from scene to scene. Though he doesn’t linger over scenes (like, say, the endless wedding in The Deer Hunter), Truffaut’s films don’t usually have much tension, regardless of genre or subject matter. He likes to keep his distance, which can sometimes pay off—or not.

4 – Truffaut lacks Hitchcock’s fascination with film structure, as in Vertigo and Psycho. His films tend to be rather straightforward.

5 – Hitchcock tailors the film to fit the stars. Truffaut doesn’t tailor MM to fit Belmondo’s screen persona. Belmondo isn’t very believable as the kind of man who would need a mail order bride. I’m not sure he’s all that believable as a man deeply in love. He readily projects cool, confidence, swagger, sexual desire, but love? His relationship with Jean Seberg in Breathless is totally believable, but I wouldn’t for a minute call the emotions felt by either character “love.”

Spoilers ahead: In MM Belmondo has to be in love with a woman who has deceived him, robbed him, and even fed him rat poison—something like the masochistic male equivalent of Joan Fontaine in Letter from an Unknown Woman, only more so. Louis Jourdan was a cad, but he never gave poor Joan rat poison. The John Dall of Gun Crazy might just have brought this off. Truffaut doesn’t give many close-ups to his stars until the last third of the movie—here’s where the lack of preparation in the earlier acts hurts, as Truffaut belatedly decides to turn a thriller of sorts into a love story. Hitchcock interweaves thriller and love story from the beginning.

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