Monday, March 7, 2011

Francois Truffaut: First Three Feature Films

Looking at the responses to the blog so far (from page views and clicks on links) I've been pleasantly surprised at the interest in some of these Quick Picks, particularly the interest in the Jacques Tati films.  I think Netflix Watch Instantly tends to emphasize contemporary new releases a bit too much, and when people complain that there is nothing good to watch they must not have taken the time to look for older films.  So for the next few days I'll try to do a Quick Picks entry for older classics in addition to the themed entries.

We'll start in France and the great New Wave director, Francois Truffaut.  Netflix Watch Instantly has a recent documentary on Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard called Two in the Wave; the documentary itself was a bit too dry for my tastes, but I mention it here because it did have some fantastic archival footage of young Truffaut as he crossed over from film criticism to filmmaking with his triumph at the Cannes Film Festival with The 400 Blows

Just one more quick Truffaut link worth mentioning.  One of the most entertaining books on cinema that I can think of is Truffaut's book-length interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Hitchcock (or sometimes popularly called Hitchcock/Truffaut due to its cover).  Various sources on the web have now posted audio files of the interviews Truffaut conducted with Hitchcock for the book.  You should just start with the book if you are not familiar with this material, but fans of the book will find the tapes fascinating.

The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, France, 1959, 99 minutes)
Netflix: After young Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) runs away, life on the streets of Paris leads to nothing but trouble and guilt in this gritty feature film debut from legendary director François Truffaut. Though he turns to petty crime to survive, Antoine's remorse often leads him to try to return things he's stolen -- with disastrous results. The film was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar and the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Netflix link.

The one that started it all, as they say.  The Two in the Wave documentary mentioned above also has some fantastic interview footage of young Jean-Pierre Leaud, who was only 14 at the time.  This film also has one of the most famous and iconic last shots in cinema history, which has been imitated so often to the point of being a cliche that you forget that it was considered fresh and innovative at the time. [Update: Coincidentally, the London Sunday Times just published a series of Top Ten lists, including the Top Ten Great Endings, which was topped by The 400 Blows.  But before we get too excited about that, read their competitor The Spectator rip apart the lists here.]

Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut, France, 1960, 81 minutes)
Netflix: Charlie (Charles Aznavour), a once-famous pianist, is now stroking the keys in a Parisian saloon. When his brothers get in trouble with gangsters, Charlie inadvertently gets swept up in the chaos and is forced to rejoin the family he once fled. This highly stylized melodrama from director François Truffaut employs all of the hallmarks of French new wave cinema: extended voice-overs, out-of-sequence camera shots, sudden jump-cutting and more. Netflix link.

One of my all-time favorite films, period.   Two in the Wave reminds us that this was considered a flop at the time, and it is not referenced nearly as often as the other two films on this list.  But if I were to revisit one of these right now, it would be Shoot the Piano Player, because its sense of play and wide rage of tones (from slapstick humor to melodramatic melancholy) makes it a pure joy to revisit again and again, no matter how many times I've seen it.

Jules and Jim (Francois Truffaut, France, 1962, 106 minutes)
Netflix: Writers Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) are close friends who fall in love with the same woman, the unpredictable Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), amid the turbulence of World War I Paris in one of director François Truffaut's best-loved films, adapted from the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché. What results is a decades-long love triangle that both tests and strengthens the bond between the two men. Netflix link.
Another iconic New Wave film, with some images that are repeated and imitated so often that we forget how fresh this all was in 1962 (can you think of a documentary on the French New Wave that doesn't at some point show a clip of the hand-held camera shot running with Jeanne Moreau over the bridge?)

Later Truffaut films available on Netflix Watch Instantly include his English-language film Fahrenheit 451 (1966, based upon the Ray Bradbury novel), Bed and Board (1970), and The Man Who Loved Women (1977).  Also, don't forget that Truffaut played the French scientist in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

I look forward to your responses and feedback in the comments section.  --JLK

1 comment:

  1. My three favorite Francois Truffaut films also form a sort of Trilogy--charting a progression in his approach to certain themes and ideas about women, literature, obsession, Romanticism, and cinema: 1) Jules and Jim (1962); 2) Two English Girls (1971); 3) The Story of Adele H. (1975)