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.)