Thanks to the Portail des bibliothèques municipales spécialisées, I came across this picture I couldn’t resist sharing: a not-yet-two-years-old Jean-Pierre Léaud with his mother, actress Jacqueline Pierreux, from the April 16, 1946 issue of Pour tous magazine. (And it’s part of the Bibliothèque du Cinéma François Truffaut, fittingly enough.) It’s definitely a resource worth checking out, and I’m looking forward to exploring it further.
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.
Marc (Jean-Pierre Léaud), the car-obsessed protagonist of Jerzy Skolimowski’s 1967 film Le Départ, is eager to take part in his first motor rally in a few days, though there is one slight snag yet to be overcome: He doesn’t have a car. More to the point, he registered for the race as a Porsche driver, so unless he shows up in a Porsche, he won’t be allowed to participate. Lacking the funds necessary to rent one, he intends to “borrow” his boss’s vehicle (which entails hot-wiring it and sneaking it out of a garage in the dead of night), but upon discovering that his boss (Paul Roland) intends to go away for the weekend in said vehicle, he’s forced to come up with a new plan of action, legal or illegal — mostly the latter.
“From the moment that Albert Serra asked me to act in this film, and that I was in a position where I was being filmed with three cameras in one particular location, I became trapped within an experience that almost simultaneously was the experience of my own death,” Jean-Pierre Léaud said of Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV (2016). “It illustrates the quote from Jean Cocteau: ‘Cinema is the only art that can capture death at work.'”
“I don’t want the viewer to ever be comfortably seated in front of the film with a story that engages them from the start in a very traditional way and which then sticks to a very exact path — apparently exact, anyway — for an hour and a half, two hours, three hours,” Jacques Rivette said in a 1972 interview. “I’d rather, on the contrary, create a sort of perpetually unstable equilibrium which is constantly being adjusted, first in one direction and then another, so that, rather than being comfortably seated in an armchair, the viewer is sitting on top of a pile of chairs balanced on top of one another, and they’re wondering whether the chairs will collapse.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.