François Truffaut 1932–1984
French screenwriter, filmmaker, and critic.
Truffaut is considered one of the most innovative filmmakers in the history of French cinema. He was at the forefront of the French New Wave style of filmmaking and is best known as a proponent of the auteur theory, that the director should be involved in the creation of the film from the writing of the script to the direction of the movie. He also worked throughout his life as a film critic, attacking the pretention of French cinema and praising American filmmakers. Although his life was relatively short, Truffaut made numerous films which achieved both critical and public success.
Truffaut was born on February 6, 1932, in Paris. Not wanted by his parents, he spent his youth as a delinquent, skipping school and attending the cinema. Truffaut dropped out of school at the age of 15, about the time he met the film critic André Bazin. Bazin was instrumental in having the youth released from a juvenile detention center and later in helping him avoid criminal charges for desertion from the army, as well as influencing him about the cinema. Truffaut wrote an important essay for Bazin's journal Les Cahiers du Cinema, "Une certain tendance du cinema francais" which discussed the concepts of the auteur style. Truffaut married Madeline Morgenstern, the daughter of an influential film producer, and her dowry allowed him to establish a film production company. In 1957 he made his first film, Les Mistons, and in 1959 he released his best-known film, Les Quatre cents coup (The 400 Blows). He continued to make films at the rate of approximately one per year. The father of three daughters, Truffaut divorced his wife and in the last years of his life lived with the actress Fanny Ardent; he died of a brain tumor in 1984.
Throughout his lifetime Truffaut created 21 feature films, 3 shorts, 10 books, and hundreds of articles and reviews. He was influenced by the filmmakers Renoir and Hitchcock and his films addressed subjects such as youth and misfits. His first critical and commercial success The 400 Blows was an autobiographical account of a neglected, abused and misunderstood boy, Antoine Doinel. The film won Truffaut the 1959 Cannes Film Festival award for best director and brought him public recognition. He continued the story of Doinel in the films L'Amour à vingt ans (1962; Love at Twenty), Baisers voles (1968; Stolen Kisses), Domicile conjugal (1971; Bed and Board), and L'Amour en fuite (1980; Love on the Run). Tirez sur le pianiste (1962; Shoot the Piano Player) reflected Truffaut's deep love and respect for the American cinema, particularly of B movies. It was an unusual blend of many genres and was both serious and comical. Jules et Jim (1962; Jules and Jim) is an intense character study, the product of a wide range of cinematic devices, and is somber and introspective. In La Nuit americaine (1973; Day for Night), which won the New York Film Critics' award for best picture and an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Truffaut considers the nature of filmmaking. It is again autobiographical and Truffaut plays the role of a film director in the movie.
Critics agree that Jules and Jim, Shoot the Piano Player and The 400 Blows are Truffaut's best works. There is less agreement about the rest of his work. Some critics believe that Truffaut's first films are his best and the quality of his work decreases over time. Others point out that Day to Night and L'Enfant sauvage (1970; The Wild Child) are among his best work. Most critics agree that Fahrenheit 451 (1966), based on the Ray Bradbury novel, and La Sirene de Mississippi (1970; Mississippi Mermaid) are his least successful works. Despite criticism, he is praised for his approach which, while affectionate, does not sink into sentimentality. He is also known for his ease in filmmaking and for his natural style and balance.