A Letter Written by Hand: The Green Room (1978)

Blurry

“There have been many, too many, deaths around me, of people I’ve loved, that I took the decision, after Françoise Dorléac died, never again to attend a funeral, which, as you can well imagine, does not prevent the distress I feel from casting its shadow over everything for a time and never completely fading, even as the years pass, for we live not only with the living but also with all of those who have ever meant anything in our lives.”

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Director Series: François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard’s Une histoire d’eau (1958)

Boat

“It was obvious, once the film was finished, that it wasn’t his or mine and that it would be logical for both to sign and to make a present of it to the producer who never made a fortune out of it.” — François Truffaut

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Director Series: François Truffaut

truffaut
Source

Ages and ages ago, as recorded in my very first post on this blog, I decided to view and write about all of Yasujirô Ozu’s extant films in chronological order. For one reason or another, I never made it very far, only managing to get through Days of Youth, Fighting Friends — Japanese Style and I Graduated, But… before abandoning — or simply forgetting about — the project. At some point, I hope to pick up where I left off, though I’ll probably wait until the Criterion Channel launches in April, which should (fingers crossed) give me access to the bulk of his work. (Side note: Is there any legal way to watch The Munekata Sisters, preferably with English subtitles? It’s the only one I still haven’t seen. Anyway…)

For the time being, however, I’d like to attempt the same project with the films of François Truffaut. I’ve already written about quite a few of them here, but I hope to avoid retreading too much old ground; I think that the chronological format will help foster new insights, and these posts will probably be a bit more informal in style than the others, though we’ll see how things develop. The plan at this point is to publish one write-up per month, starting later this month.

Films of Innocence and Experience

Two Trios

Is it possible to discuss Two English Girls without bringing up Jules and Jim? François Truffaut’s 1971 film seems to live in the shadow of its better-known predecessor, shot ten years earlier, and not without reason. Both movies are based on semi-autobiographical novels by Henri-Pierre Roché; both were made by several of the same people, including Truffaut, screenwriter Jean Gruault and composer Georges Delerue; both feature narration throughout; and both focus on complex love triangles that shift and evolve over the course of quite a few years. In fact, a quick glance at a written summary of Two English Girls might suggest little more than a gender-flipped version of Jules and Jim, with its triangle comprising two women and a man instead of two men and a woman. However, in watching the film, it becomes clear almost immediately that Truffaut’s aims were drastically different this time around.

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Between Two Worlds: The Wild Child (1970)

Victor Forest

On a summer day in 1798, a woman collecting mushrooms in a French forest is startled by what appears to be a large animal moving in the brush, grunting and sending leaves flying into the air. After she runs off, it reveals itself — not as the fearsome beast the woman imagined, but as a boy of eleven or twelve (Jean-Pierre Cargol), naked, long-haired, covered in filth and moving on all fours. Human though he is, he leads the life of a wild animal, and soon he’s captured like one, chased by dogs and smoked out of a hole in the ground by a group of hunters. Dubbed the Wild Boy of Aveyron, he becomes an object of curiosity to the public at large and the medical profession in particular. Because he’s unable to speak and has limited hearing — he turns around when a nut is cracked behind him but doesn’t react when a door slams — the boy is placed in an institution for the deaf, where tourists come to gawk at him and the other children abuse him. Appalled by these conditions, Dr. Jean Itard (François Truffaut) proposes moving the boy to his own home on the outskirts of Paris. There, with the help of his housekeeper, Madame Guérin (Françoise Seigner), he intends to educate him.

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A Strange Game: Two English Girls (1971)

Game

Early on in François Truffaut’s 1971 film Les deux Anglaises et le continent, or Two English Girls, sisters Anne (Kika Markham) and Muriel Brown (Stacey Tendeter), their mother (Sylvia Marriott) and their house guest, Claude Roc (Jean-Pierre Léaud), get caught in the rain. After the group takes shelter in a small cave, Mrs. Brown suggests that they play a game called citron pressé (“squeezed lemon”) in order to pass the time until the weather improves. Her daughters agree eagerly and sit down on either side of her, their backs against her arms while she faces forward, and begin to rock her to and fro, first one leaning backwards and then the other. Laughing and out of breath, Mrs. Brown soon invites Claude to take her place, which he does — but what was merely an innocent diversion for the Browns becomes something quite different for the young Frenchman. “Suddenly he was a pawn in a strange game. Squeezed between the girls, he didn’t dare breathe. He’d never even touched their hands. Now their supple backs thrust against him. It was like an indiscretion,” the narrator (Truffaut himself*) says as Claude is pushed from side to side, surprise, pleasure and uncertainty flickering across his face.

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Engineering a Train in the Night: Day for Night (1973)

day-for-night

“It’s often occurred to me that one might make a first-rate comedy on the making of a movie,” François Truffaut remarked during a 1962 conversation with Alfred Hitchcock, the basis for his book on the Master of Suspense. At that point, Truffaut was still a relative novice as a director, with only three feature films and a few shorts to his name. By the time his idea came to fruition in the form of 1973’s Day for Night, he had acquired ample experience, good and bad, from which he could draw material, and draw from it he did.

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