Shadows Closing In: Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

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“Who is Charlie Koller? All we know is he’s the piano man who’s raising his kid brother and who minds his own business.” So says Léna (Marie Dubois), a waitress at the seedy bar where Charlie (Charles Aznavour) pounds away at the keys every night. As it happens, there’s much more to this reticent loner than the people around him realize; for starters, he’s not actually Charlie Koller…

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Essence of Truffaut: Les Mistons (1957)

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Jean Renoir has been quoted as saying, “A director makes only one movie in his life. Then he breaks it into pieces and makes it again.” When François Truffaut, one of Renoir’s most fervent admirers, made his first film in 1954, he was so displeased by the result — the eight-minute short Une Visite — that he considered destroying it; he didn’t even screen it for his friends until 1982. Three years would pass before he tried directing again, during which time he continued writing film criticism and also worked as Roberto Rossellini’s assistant. This experience paid off. His second short, Les Mistons, would be far more successful and was, in many respects, the movie that he would break into pieces and make again throughout his career.

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Five Classic Movies for a Desert Island

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To any film lover, the thought of being limited to a mere five movies for an indefinite period is nightmarish. Even when given a choice of titles, countless favorites have to be left out, not to mention the seemingly infinite number of films that remain unseen. After much debate, here are the five classic movies (i.e., from the 1970s or earlier) that I would want to compose my desert island library.

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A Kind of Fever: The Story of Adèle H. (1975)

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“The year is 1863. For two years now, the United States has been torn apart by a civil war. Will Great Britain recognize the independence of the southern Confederacy and join in war against the Yankees? Since 1862, British troops have been stationed in the Canadian town of Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, formerly the French Acadia. Halifax is gripped by a kind of fever. The townspeople are busy worrying, smuggling goods and hunting Yankee spies, while at the port the British authorities maintain a close check on European passengers disembarking from the Great Eastern, the huge steamship also known as ‘the floating city.'”

Among the passengers is a young Frenchwoman (Isabelle Adjani). She takes a room at a boarding house, where she introduces herself as Miss Lewly. After settling in, she begins to make inquiries around town about a certain British officer, Lieutenant Albert Pinson (Bruce Robinson), though her story is different each time. She tells a notary public that she’s the wife of a Dr. Lenormand from Paris and that her niece was practically engaged to Pinson but lost contact with him; she tells a bookseller that Pinson is her sister’s brother-in-law; she tells the owners of the boarding house that she grew up with Pinson, her village clergyman’s son, and that he’s always been in love with her, without any encouragement on her part. Clearly, all is not as it seems.

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A Mimetic Thing: François Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Léaud

François Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Léaud during the filming of Two English Girls, 1971 (Source)

In September of 1958, a fledgling director placed an advertisement in France-Soir, seeking a young adolescent to star in his upcoming movie. Finding the right actor was particularly important to him: Not only would this be his first feature film, but the boy he chose would be playing a thinly veiled version of the director himself.

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The Adventures of Antoine Doinel: Love on the Run (1979)

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For almost a decade, François Truffaut stuck to his resolution that Bed and Board would be the final entry in the Antoine Doinel series. Then, in 1978, The Green Room — a film of great personal importance to him — failed at the box office. Depressed and in need of a hit to recoup his losses, he postponed a project called  L’Agence Magic, which would have required a trip to Africa, and decided that it was time to bring Antoine Doinel out of retirement.

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The Adventures of Antoine Doinel: Bed and Board (1970)

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In 1969, François Truffaut began working on a sequel to Stolen Kisses, one that — as Henri Langlois had requested — would depict the married life of Antoine Doinel and Christine Darbon. “Compared to Stolen Kisses, I’m trying to be much funnier when it’s funny, and much more dramatic when it’s dramatic,” he said during an on-set interview in 1970. “It’s the same mixture. We’re just trying to increase the dosage.” The film was to be called Domicile conjugal (Bed and Board).

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The Adventures of Antoine Doinel: Stolen Kisses (1968)

Unlike Antoine and Colette, which came about when François Truffaut was asked to contribute an episode to an anthology film, the next movie in the Antoine Doinel series had no external impetus. “I usually start with more solid material,” the director said on a 1970 episode of Cinéastes de notre temps. “I like having two or three reasons to make a film, a coming together of a book I want to adapt or an atmosphere I want to show with an actor that I want to film, and perhaps a third reason. Here, I admit, I just wanted to work with Jean-Pierre Léaud again. I more or less set a specific date by which I wanted to make a film with Léaud, with my friends Claude de Givray and Bernard Revon. I’d worked with Claude before. I’d known him for many years. We sat down and said, ‘What are we going to do with Léaud?'”

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