François Truffaut Truffaut, François (Vol. 20) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

François Truffaut 1932–

French director, scriptwriter, critic, and actor.

Truffaut is both the formulator and one of the most skilled practitioners of the auteur theory of filmmaking which holds that the film's director should be the commanding presence in the work, responsible for script as well as direction. His best work combines an affectionate acceptance of life's consequences with an objectivity that precludes sentimentality. This recognition imbues his films with their characteristic bittersweet quality.

Truffaut's childhood was unhappy, like that of his alter ego, Antoine Doinel, in The 400 Blows. Neglected by his parents, Truffaut often skipped school and sought refuge in the cinema. The love of film he developed led Truffaut into an important friendship with André Bazin, an influential critic who became a father-figure to Truffaut. Bazin helped Truffaut when the army arrested him for desertion; as well, Bazin's journal, Les Cahiers du Cinéma published Truffaut's auteur manifesto, "Une certain tendance du cinéma français." This essay attacked France's postwar films, claiming they abused the rights of cinema by giving the public "its habitual dose of smut, nonconformity, and facile audacity." In their place, Truffaut proposed a "cinéma des auteurs," praising directors who write and invent what they shoot. The article became a hallmark for the young critic as well as the fledgling magazine. Not surprisingly, this theory encouraged many young critics to make their own films, resulting in the nouvelle vague (new wave). Among these directors, most notable are Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais, and Truffaut.

Truffaut's directorial opportunity came with his marriage to Madeleine Morgenstern, whose wealthy father provided one-third of the cost of production for The 400 Blows. Intensely autobiographical, the film tells the story of a young Parisian boy who is mistreated and ignored by his family and society in general. The film won for Truffaut the 1959 Cannes Film Festival award for best director. Doinel emerged in later films as he grew older: the character's obsession with women and literature is intended to correspond with Truffaut's overwhelming love of film.

Truffaut's recent films are less autobiographical, although in Day for Night, Truffaut played himself as a director. Other films, such as Small Change, reflect his love for children. Although Truffaut borrows strongly from Renoir and Hitchcock, his themes and moral stance remain unique, providing a melancholic insight into human complexity. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)

William Bernhardt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

For some little time now we have been hearing and reading about the crop of rising young French directors but we have had little opportunity to see their work at firsthand. Signs of a change are in view with the arrival of François Truffaut's Les Mistons [The Mischief Makers]….

Based on a story by Maurice Pons, Les Mistons … recalls the activities of five young French boys on the threshold of adolescence as they move through a summer in which the magic circle of childhood is broken and they stumble hesitantly, unsurely, into the mysterious world of puberty. Baffled by a change they do not yet fully comprehend, the boys release their bewilderment over an awakening sensuality on a pair of young lovers, Gerard and Bernadette …, spying upon and tormenting the pair,… and releasing their ambivalent emotions by projecting their unfulfilled lusts onto the ripe young body of Bernadette, who in their eyes becomes something of a goddess—mysterious, desirable, unobtainable, a legend.

All of this is revealed through a combination of visuals and commentary, both of which weave a spell of poetic sensuality combined with a nostalgic tenderness for the lost innocence of childhood. The summer becomes something of a ritualistic rite de passage. In the words of the commentary, the boys discover themselves but lose themselves; they discover a new kind of love but lose the old kind. No longer children, not...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Arlene Croce

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The 400 Blows is a sad, bitter] story of a child's gradual disaffection from society. The child is tough, imaginative, exuberant; the society is dull, timid, corrupt. But the film's point of view isn't sentimental…. The 400 Blows does not exist on a plane of fantasy; its premises are not allegorical. It is about the suffering an average young schoolboy must endure if he has the bad luck to be considered a criminal by both his family and the state in what we can only take to be present-day Paris. Given the actualities of this situation, and a manifest talent for observation, Truffaut's approach may seem to American audiences strangely stoical. He seems to be able to accept bad luck in good grace and still move us to moral indignation.

Truffaut is not, in the political sense, engaged. He protests in terms of the transcendent values; he protests the inhumanity of man. The underlying sadness of his film is the sadness of the universal estrangement…. In The 400 Blows, "new wave" technique serves to unite poetry and journalism in the powerful idiom of a particular environment—an environment, moreover, that has long supplied certain historical privileges for what an aesthetic need can make of them…. The 400 Blows is a film about freedom. It could, I think, convey this idea to an audience of deaf illiterates in any part of the world, because its construction is very nearly as absolutely visual as that of a...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Eric Rhode

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

That there's a Chaplinesque pathos about François Truffaut's Les Quatre Cents Coups [400 Blows] … isn't surprising; for like Chaplin's tramp, Antoine Doinel, the protagonist of this film, tries to live a way of life that quickly brings him into conflict with society. Antoine presents positives similar to Chaplin: he's a bit of a dandy, full of tricks and affection, with a lovely appreciation of life, and yet a sense of its absurdity also. But for him, the conflict with society is more than a matter of pathos; for Antoine is only twelve-and-a-half years old, and his history presents in an extreme form that most tragic experience of adolescence, the loss of spontaneity. (p. 89)

This is a deeply ironical film. For instance, Antoine's downfall is precipitated by his admiration for Balzac, one of the most eminent critics of society, and confirmed when he tries to return a stolen typewriter; and this irony takes on an increasing resonance because Antoine doesn't realise the ambiguity of social morality. (pp. 89-90)

Truffaut has said of his film that it should be judged not by its technical perfections but by its sincerity; but of course a man's sincerity can only be judged by his technique. It is in fact through the success of his technique that Truffaut catches so much of life's richness…. [With Truffaut] art conceals art; sequences are neither broken down and manipulated into aesthetic effect, nor is their...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

Pierre Kas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Shoot the Piano Player] demonstrates very strikingly the ascendancy of subject matter over the unraveling of plot. I certainly could not recount the story in a sentence, but it is very clear that François Truffaut has filmed timidity as it has never been done before. (p. 54)

Behind the façade of imposed events, everything in Piano Player happens as if the expression of personality had become more perceptible to the viewer; as if, within the framework of an externally imposed detective story plot, the individuality of the characters became therefore all the more apparent.

But no doubt it's a great betrayal of the film to wander in the meandering ways of a changing logic, when the first, the most durable, and the most persistent impression the film gives is one of charm…. Shoot the Piano Player has more charm than any film I've seen for years. But, do I mean that therefore it's impossible to guess the reasons why?

One is obviously the freedom of narrative. That's a paradox for a story with a detective plot. Ten examples of admirable American detective films can be cited where the iron rule of plot gives birth to a conception of the useful. Everything is sacrificed to effectiveness. Most French films that aspire to this genre are caricatures of the method. In Shoot the Piano Player it seems to me that plot, without disappearing, passes into the background to the...

(The entire section is 449 words.)

Raymond Durgnat

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Tirez Sur Le Pianiste [Shoot the Piano Player] is less a parody than a new mutation of the "film noir". The toughs are absurd rather than frightening, the hero lays the lovelies because he's weak, ineffectual, shy and resigned. This "Romantic" hero, cursed by his own fine sensitivity, is by recent conventions not just an anti-hero, like The Wild One, but an anti-anti-hero—a soundly paradoxical basis for the film's extraordinary charm.

The story, by Truffaut out of David (Dark Passage) Goodis, recalls James M. Cain's Serenade in its baroque juxtaposition of fine art and skullduggery….

In line with the admirable anti-psychologising trend of the French Cinema, Truffaut's film is festooned with mysterious, seemingly arbitrary details of setting and style, and its plot may seem a chain of contrived coincidences and unmotivated decisions. But the "new superficiality" in films (and novels and the theatre), the creative use of reticence, ambiguity and monotony, the stress on "style" and "spatial relationships," far from involving a rejection of "human values" is a salutary renunciation of theories of literature as systematic character-analysis….

Twice Truffaut's hero does precisely what he has just decided not to do; he deserts his remorseful wife without a word, and leaves Lena for his brothers. The film is full of visual details, of stray lines of dialogue, which mean—something, but what? (p. 29)

Truffaut's eclecticism makes him the Cinema's key stylist, for he yokes the "drab," deadpan, realistic-enigmatic style of Ophuls-Bresson-Resnais with the newer "realistic expressionism" … effective enough to take patent artificiality in its stride….

[Tirez sur le pianiste] doesn't quite come off. It's something to do with the thugs being too numerous, perfunctory and absurd and with Truffaut deliberately mocking everything that could as easily be menacing and nightmarish.

The "gesture-atmosphere" of Charlie recalls Truffaut himself—don't shoot the pianist if instead of a masterpiece he's half-amused, half-rediscovered himself with an intriguing, constantly brilliant, and exceptionally pleasurable film. (p. 30)

Raymond Durgnat, "'Shoot the Pianist'" (© copyright Raymond Durgnat 1961; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 7, No. 5, February, 1961, pp. 29-30.

Richard Roud

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Jules et Jim] is very much a conscious attempt on Truffaut's part to make a synthesis of his first two films: to combine the "big" subject with obvious human significance of Les Quatre Cents Coups with what he calls the "plastic enterprise" of Shoot the Pianist….

Friendship, Truffaut seems to be saying, is rarer and more precious than love. Or perhaps he is also saying that friendship, not being as natural or as innate as sex relationships, must always be destroyed by the forces of nature re-asserting themselves—just as in Goethe's Elective Affinities, to which several references are made in the film, the wilderness is always waiting to destory the carefully nurtured...

(The entire section is 348 words.)

Pauline Kael

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Shoot the Piano Player] busts out all over—and that's what's wonderful about it. The film is comedy, pathos, tragedy all scrambled up—much I think as most of us really experience them (surely all our lives are filled with comic horrors) but not as we have been led to expect them in films. (p. 210)

Shoot the Piano Player is both nihilistic in attitude and, at the same time, in its wit and good spirits, totally involved in life and fun. Whatever Truffaut touches, seems to leap to life—even a gangster thriller is transformed by the wonder of the human comedy. A comedy about melancholia, about the hopelessness of life can only give the lie to the theme; for as long as we can...

(The entire section is 458 words.)

Gilles Jacob

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[La Peau Douce] is a trap: there have been plenty of films about adultery, but few have ventured to take the mechanism so methodically to pieces….

Through his use of disconnection (light switches, camera shutters, gear-changes), Truffaut demonstrates the fragility of love; his world is one of objects and skins, of fleeting glances and fleeting contacts, as though love, in the steely world in which we live, were no more than two skins touching in a universe where things and people are sealed away from each other in impenetrable envelopes.

There is still much of the old Truffaut in La Peau Douce in the quotations from Renoir, from himself, and the Tirez-style...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

Jay Cocks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Bride Wore Black] is a good exercise, a faithful tribute and, unhappily, not a very good Truffaut film.

For anyone else, any Hollywood hack turning his hand to elegant suspense, this would be an enjoyable romp through fairly familiar territory: mysterious woman … sets out to avenge the murder of her husband. But Truffaut either does not understand or is not comfortable with the psychological and dramatic tensions implicit in such a story….

It is perhaps unfair to belabor Truffaut for making a straight suspense film, but the real trouble is that there isn't any suspense and the comedy isn't funny. This just isn't Truffaut territory…. Julie in Bride is a...

(The entire section is 201 words.)

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

François Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black has been reviewed as if it were a filmed sequel to Truffaut's book on Alfred Hitchcock. But it isn't. Whereas Hitchcock is basically a genre director, Truffaut's temperament is closer to the sprawling humanism of Renoir. Of course, no director can memorize the life's work of another director without picking up a few tricks and ideas along the way…. [The] mere fact that The Bride Wore Black is a violent melodrama with a soupçon of suspense is sufficient grounds for most critics to tag Truffaut with a Hitchcock label. However, even Renoir is not entirely a stranger to violent melodrama. The murders in La Chienne, La Bête Humaine, The Crime of Monsieur...

(The entire section is 817 words.)

Pauline Kael

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 isn't a very good movie but the idea—which is rather dumb but in a way brilliant—has an almost irresistible appeal: people want to see it and then want to talk about how it should have been worked out. Fahrenheit 451 is more interesting in the talking-over afterward than in the seeing. (p. 146)

Of course, a gimmicky approach to the emptiness of life without books cannot convey what books mean or what they're for: homage to literature and wisdom cannot be paid through a trick shortcut to profundity; the skimpy science-fiction script cannot create characters or observation that would make us understand imaginatively what book...

(The entire section is 722 words.)

Pauline Kael

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Truffaut's new film, Stolen Kisses, is charming, certainly, and likable, but it's too likable, too easily likable…. Stolen Kisses isn't rigorous, and without rigor the tenderness is a little flabby…. When I saw Antoine in The 400 Blows, I thought he was basically a healthy and resilient child who wasn't too badly off—not as badly off as the picture made him out to be. But I didn't think Truffaut saw it that way, and the frozen frame at the end, with Antoine looking at the sea, suggested that his future was hopeless. Now Truffaut has made him so healthy that I can't believe that that sensitive boy could have become so trivially healthy. The child's desperation has disappeared,...

(The entire section is 495 words.)

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Stolen Kisses is once more that special Truffaut blend of sentimentality and screwiness, of an alert eye, a spunky technique, and a respect for the zaniness of life. But this loose sequence of adventures and misadventures befalling Antoine Doinel (the child hero of The 400 Blows and youth hero of Truffaut's episode in Love at Twenty) upon his dishonorable discharge from military service … is too aimless, casual, slight. One wonders why film exhausts its major talents so quickly.

The answer is, more than anything else, quick imitation. If a writer evolves a new technique, it takes a relatively long time for it to become understood, accepted, and emulated. Film, however, displays...

(The entire section is 523 words.)

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Cuteness] is part of [Truffaut's] film-making psyche these days (all those cozy "inside" references in The Bride Wore Black and Mississippi Mermaid), and it is one of the reasons why The Wild Child, which is generally interesting, is not as good as it might have been. The visual aim of the film is not to look like 1798, but to look like an old film, a cute objective rather than an artistic one: the many uses of the iris, the tone of the black and white which is almost like 1920s sepia, the management of the crowd scenes like those in old operettas, all these are consciously quaint devices.

The best element is the straightforward narrative, which is truly simple, not quaintly so....

(The entire section is 391 words.)

Graham Petrie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The sensitive viewer of a Truffaut film will find himself making constant and subtle re-adjustments of his standard assumptions and preconceptions; he will emerge with a new awareness of the incongruous rhythms of life, of the inextricable mingling of beauty and sadness in everyday experience, but he will feel that he has discovered these for himself. Exactly because he does feel this, however, he may give the film-maker less credit than he deserves for the subtlety and intelligence with which he has brought about these re-adjustments. The style may seem so unobtrusive or "natural," the people so real, the behaviour so spontaneous, the final response so instinctive, that the viewer may feel less that he has...

(The entire section is 3269 words.)

David Wilson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Truffaut has always been fascinated by innocence. And by children…. [In L'Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child)] we have the archetypal innocent, and the systematic corruption of innocence: animal nature—in the shape of a wolf boy—tamed and 'civilised' by rational society, in the person of a well-meaning doctor and according to the notions of the time. It is the back-to-nature fantasy in reverse; a detailed, almost clinical examination of the process by which impulse is subdued by education….

[The] film is sober, unemotional, pared down to essentials.

Style, in fact, is appropriately matched to content, here perhaps more rigorously than in any of Truffaut's previous...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Bed and Board completes Truffaut's] life story disguised as Antoine Doinel. The first installment was The 400 Blows, then there was an episode in the anthology picture, Love at Twenty, then the pleasant Stolen Kisses. But there was a great discrepancy between the first Antoine and the hero of that last film, and it's no easier to believe in the wholeness of the character now that the story is concluded….

Style is what is being hailed in Bed and Board, but charm is what is being merchandised, as calculatedly as in any France-for-export film of the 1930s….

But for all the incessantly pumped bonhomie, the picture sags, with no such nice...

(The entire section is 218 words.)

David Bordwell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A photograph "directed" by Francois Truffaut in a recent Esquire [August, 1970] shows him reclining jauntily on a chair, his back turned to us while he puffs on an enormous cigar; his face is ingeniously reflected toward us in the open French window. The shot and the accompanying article seem to confirm what many have been suspecting for a long time. The cigar, the cutely oblique point-of-view, the claim that he makes films for the man in the street—isn't this all the outcome of Truffaut's whoring after false gods, and one portly god in particular? Pauline Kael, with typical nuance, concluded long ago that Truffaut is "a bastard pretender to the commercial throne of Hitchcock" [see excerpt above].


(The entire section is 2632 words.)

Jan Dawson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Where Baisers Volés was essentially a celebration of capriciousness—of ephemeral relationships between unique but emphatically temporary beings repeatedly sidetracked by life's infinite chances—Bed and Board …, the last of Truffaut's films in the Antoine Doinel cycle, is ultimately an apology for staying in the same place. Which may perhaps explain its air of rather laboured humour and intermittently forced charm….

In the long run, people are shown to be not so much uniquely interesting as equally limited…. The sad thing is that, along with the character he has nursed and created, Truffaut too seems to be running out of energetic improvisation and to have discovered the...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Pauline Kael

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Truffaut has written, "Once a picture is finished, I realize it is sadder than I meant it to be," but with Two English Girls he must have had the realization while he was shooting the picture, because he keeps trying to cover up the sadness with pat bits of gentleness and charm—his stock-in-trade. Yet what is intended to be light lacks the requisite gaiety; everything is muted, almost repressed. (p. 18)

The movie of Jules and Jim was about wrecked lives, too, but wildly wrecked and so intensely full of life that the movie had an intoxication all its own. Here, despite the links to that earlier film and occasional references to it, the exhilarating spirit has flickered out, and we...

(The entire section is 545 words.)

Richard Combs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Rather like the sudden revelation of a maliciously grinning face, finally visible through the detail of a drawing, François Truffaut's A Gorgeous Bird Like Me … ends on an unexpectedly sardonic joke…. The ending hints at a pattern to the contest of styles between Stanislas and Camille—parodies of reason and instinct, with the bias towards an anti-intellectual buffoonery in the cardboard caricature of the sociologist. But the rest of the film is too busy with repetitive and faintly parasitic gags to make much of the competition, and the pattern is meaninglessly scrambled by some casual dislocations….

In place of the moral righteousness of the heroine of The Bride Wore Black, A...

(The entire section is 354 words.)

Vincent Canby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One of the propelling impulses still is the need to make ordered and comprehensible a world that is disordered and incomprehensible. It's not the only impulse but it is an important one, and it has always seemed to me that one of the most moving aspects of the work of any artist is this ability to continue to function when, deep down, he must suspect an ultimate futility.

This suspicion is apparent throughout the best work of François Truffaut…. It's not the final disposition of things that is important, Truffaut's films keep saying, but the adventures and the risks en route, the mad and often doomed challenges that are accepted in living….

[Day for Night] is Truffaut's...

(The entire section is 532 words.)

Barbara Coffey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The films created by Francois Truffaut can be appreciated on many levels. As an auteur, he has complete aesthetic control over every aspect of his works, providing his audience with deliberate avenues that they can explore in order to comprehend more fully the complex characters, their situations, and the main themes. Acutely aware of the other arts, he recurrently makes references to literature, music, and art in his films—not only to provide suitable reinforcements of the mise en scène but, more importantly, to function as symbols which, in turn, extend the meaning of the cinema into an all-inclusive art. The question of mixed genres has dual implications: it suggests, first, that one must be...

(The entire section is 3702 words.)

Stephen Farber

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Day for Night is conceived as a loving satire on the peculiar obsessions of movie people. Truffaut captures the vanity of actors; when asked to discuss the film they are shooting, each actor describes his own character as the protagonist. Day for Night also contains some tart observations on the single-mindedness of the director, Ferrand (played by Truffaut himself), who is immersed in the shadow world of movies. (p. 253)

[Although] it pokes fun at the egotism of actors, the film is really a love letter to a group of fabulous monsters. The clear-eyed but affectionate attitude toward actors helps to explain Truffaut's superb work with actors throughout his career. Similarly, Truffaut...

(The entire section is 467 words.)

Don Allen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Truffaut's films are always about himself; to a greater or lesser extent, less obviously in some films than in others, but nevertheless always. They are also always about love, again with a similar caveat. These elements are of course not mutually exclusive, but are combined in different ways from film to film. The typical Truffaut hero contains many of Truffaut's own personal characteristics and is involved in some sort of 'love' relationship. These two recurring preoccupations are announced in Truffaut's first film, Les Mistons, and have been taken up repeatedly throughout his work.

The two major themes may be variously subdivided. For example, the importance of friendship, especially...

(The entire section is 804 words.)

Molly Haskell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Story of Adele H."] is the recreation of a passion, but the passion entertained by this particular woman in love … is seen not as desire or ecstasy, or with even a glimpse of mutuality, but as a dark and one-sided obsession, a pursuit remorselessly undertaken, with the female stalking the male, almost literally, to the ends of the earth…. Truffaut asks us to understand Adele's situation without identifying directly. This approach seems more logical in a Brechtian parable like [Schloendorff and von Trotta's] "The Lost Honor of Katharine Blum" than in a love story, which is what makes the Truffaut film so fascinating, but ultimately more as a tribute to an experience than as an experience itself….


(The entire section is 614 words.)

Gillian Parker Klein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It would be possible to approach L'Histoire d'Adèle H. as a continuation of its auteur's concerns: the obsessions and limitations of romantic love; the search for identity; the attempt to transform life into art; or perhaps it should be seen as a rather somber Day for Night, playing against artistic conventions and deliberately confusing the illusion and reality of film. What I would like to suggest here is that Adèle Hugo's life is to be seen as epitomizing aspects of women's situation in general; that Truffaut is critically examining the destructive effect of the dominating images and personae of her period on a woman….

If the film remains to an extent within the romantic...

(The entire section is 1311 words.)

James Monaco

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Les Quatre Cents Coups, "Antoine et Colette" from L'Amour à Vingt ans (Love at Twenty), Baisers volés, and Domicile conjugal] together form a remarkable work: an extended portrait of the éducation sentimentale of a young man portrayed by an actor who is growing, physically as well as emotionally and intellectually, during the course of twelve years of intermittent shooting…. As the series progressed, Léaud became a significant collaborator, and the ultimate portrait we have of Antoine Doinel may owe as much to Léaud [who played Doinel in the films] as to its ostensible model, Truffaut. (pp. 17, 19)

[There] is the sense that Antoine shares with Truffaut and Léaud...

(The entire section is 2705 words.)

Allen Thiher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The 400 Blows, the] presence of a camera aimlessly set in motion, breaking self-consciously with the canons of traditional filmic representation and setting forth a world that has no rapport with the film music, seems to confirm immediately our assertion that the absurd informs Truffaut's early work in its most basic formal aspects. It is, of course, at the most primary level of mimesis that these absurdist configurations are most evident, since Truffaut's representation of episodic experience is grounded in plots that are essentially discontinuous series of non-causally related events that reflect the radical, if often incoherent freedom that Truffaut's characters enjoy. (p. 184)


(The entire section is 2463 words.)

Verina Glaessner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Small Change ends up strangely formal and opaque, and not a little patronising. Patrick's segment of the film is reasonably successful simply because it is the most developed and allows Truffaut to rework a familiar theme with some deftness. Overall, the incidents seem at once too arbitrary and too trite…. If The 400 Blows and Les Mistons were disquieting precisely because they took their protagonists as allies, and through them allowed the audience to question social assumptions, here the story of the child martyr Julien Leclou is used simply to confirm the complacent view of 'middle France' presented elsewhere in the film. In fact, it is arguably not so much childish resilience that is being...

(The entire section is 236 words.)

Derek Elley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

L'argent de poche [Small Change] may have a story-line which harks back to Les quatre cents coups, but in spirit it is an entirely new work. It is, in fact, the world of that earlier film (or at least, the classroom and escapade passages, rather than the darker borstal section) seen through the rose-tinted filter of the later Doinel films; the result, expressed in a freer form than any other of his works, has an infectious warmth which must be experienced rather than written about….

The film celebrates not popular myths like the 'innocence' of children or childhood, or even the joy of schooldays, but the resilience of the human spirit, both child and adult.


(The entire section is 134 words.)

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is a bite and a force to [The Man Who Loved Women, a] saga of a French provincial sad-faced skirt-chaser that places Truffaut for the moment halfway between the realms of Renoir and Bunuel. It may be that Truffaut is finally getting old enough to make the confessional mode of filmmaking pay off in emotional resonance. Here he has seemed to get deeper into his psyche than usual without at the same time seeming to repeat himself stylistically. One recognizes the Truffaut trademarks: the undigestedly literary form of narration, the privileged moments of fresh-air documentary, the construction of characters through maxims and meditations, the jolting awareness of the artist's arbitrary control over his...

(The entire section is 368 words.)

Pauline Kael

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

François Truffaut's The Man Who Loved Women begins with the arrival of the mourners at Bertrand's funeral…. When, in flashback, we see Bertrand …, the dedicated skirt-chaser whose lovemaking these women are honoring by their presence, it's a letdown. He's dead even when he's supposed to be alive…. Bertrand is like an elderly, dried-up pederast. There are, of course, joyless compulsive chasers, but Bertrand's chasing isn't intended to be joyless. Although his obsession may look to be about as exciting as building a two-foot replica of the Pentagon with toothpicks, he's meant to be irresistibly charming.

Bertrand's plight might have been a subject for one of Sacha Guitry's light...

(The entire section is 447 words.)

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

François Truffaut has had a career not untypical of some of our most gifted filmmakers: a brilliant start followed by considerable floundering. No cinematic oeuvre could have begun more felicitously than his, with that remarkable trio of films, The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, and Jules and Jim. These pictures combined vitality with poignancy; they were informed by a nervous rhythm that could nevertheless linger over lyrical incidents, and a hard-bitten humor one could almost as easily cry as laugh at. Each of these films, for all the director's very pronounced personality, retained its own particular flavor: there were no repetitions, no transposable parts.

But already...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Richard Roud

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[It] is not surprising that, omnivorous reader that he is, Truffaut has now (after Chabrol, it must be said) discovered Henry James. What is surprising at first glance is that he should choose The Altar of the Dead. At first glance only, for has he not always been obsessed with … obsessions of every kind? The obsession of Adèle H. with her wayward lover, the obsession of Julie with revenge in The Bride Wore Black, the obsession of [Louis] with [Marion] in Mississippi Mermaid. The obsession of Julien Davenne in La Chambre Verte, however, is with death….

As befits its subject matter, La Chambre Verte has quite a different look from Truffaut's other films....

(The entire section is 542 words.)

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Over the years Doinel has drifted away from both Truffaut and Leaud, and now [in Love on the Run] he seems less a coherent character than a construct around which episodes involving memory and desire can be enacted. Doinel has finally written a novel, which, though not a big seller, has won him a minor literary prize. He is still hanging by his fingernails to residence in an increasingly upper-class Paris, but neither Truffaut nor Doinel seem to notice the changing atmosphere around them. Truffaut has never tried to pass himself off as a social seismograph, and Doinel, like Truffaut, is too much a self-made man and an autodidact to indulge in the romantic fantasies of the university-bred left….


(The entire section is 373 words.)

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Green Room] suggests the gradual evolution of Truffaut from seemingly the merriest of the old nouvelle vague directors to seemingly the most morbid of them all. The Pirandellian tensions between Truffaut the director and Truffaut the actor is exploited here to project a very personal contemplation of death…. The privileged cinematic moments in The Green Room have to do with Truffaut's candle-lit ceremonies dedicated to the dead in his own real and vicarious life. The love of the dead comes naturally to the lovers of old movies. Indeed, the dead of the screen are venerated because they can no longer desecrate their images with the indiscretions of their errant flesh and life-sustaining foibles....

(The entire section is 172 words.)

Julian Jebb

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With the important exception of Stolen Kisses, [Love on the Run, the Saga of Antoine Doinel's] love life through three and a half films is, to me, the least appealing of Francois Truffaut's glorious output…. The director loses some of his magic when faced with his alter ego….

[Love on the Run] has individual scenes which no other director in the history of the cinema could achieve with such elegant, heart-stopping, comic authority….

For all the tenderness and objectivity which Truffaut allows his hero, Doinel remains little more than a posturing, skirt-chasing, pretentious man—a nightmare Parisian whose arrogance is coated in self-pity. Nor, curiously, does he...

(The entire section is 283 words.)

Adeline R. Tintner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[By Truffaut's creative re-doing of Henry James's story "Altars of the Dead" into La Chambre verte (The Green Room)] he has offered what James himself considered the ideal form of criticism: "to criticise is to appreciate, to appropriate, to take intellectual possession, to establish in fine a relation with the criticised thing and make it one's own." (p. 78)

"The Altar of the Dead" is the only serious fictional attempt by James to present his idea of an afterlife which he thought of as an extension of the lives of the dead through relations with the living, depending for its force on the consciousness of the remembering person. (p. 79)

[A] view of the immortality of the soul...

(The entire section is 892 words.)

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I sincerely believe that The Last Metro must be seen by anyone seriously interested in the cinema. One may not be exactly enchanted by Truffaut's canny blend of history and romance in this tale of a theatre troupe's trials and tribulations in '40s German-occupied Paris. But who knows?…

The Last Metro reflects a certain degree of nostalgia for a period and a genre in which the moral commitments of characters could be taken for granted. What disturbs me the most about The Last Metro is that the uneasy mixture of fact and fantasy is never adequately articulated into a coherent whole. Truffaut is trying to establish connections between theatre and politics, between personal...

(The entire section is 572 words.)

Robert Hatch

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Truffaut's] films have a clarity and ease achieved only with a technique so mastered that it has become subconscious; it accommodates without strain the astonishing range of his interests. Truffaut is serious about his art, indeed a perfectionist, but he strikes no postures….

[In The Last Metro] Truffaut has put together a convincing vision of how the Parisians reacted toward their oppressors and toward the French jackals who ran with that pack….

That vision was composed of both hatred and fear, but felt and expressed, he persuades us, primarily as disgust and contempt. Everyone in the film adjusts to the situation—the huge, seemingly bland Bernard least of all. (p....

(The entire section is 286 words.)