06 February 2010

Happy Francois Truffaut's Birthday Everyone!

The great French director Francois Truffaut was born on this day 78 years ago. It's hard to believe that he has been dead for a quarter of a century. Though taken from the world much, much too soon, he left behind 25 films including some of the greats of French -- or for that matter any -- cinema.

That would be enough cause to sing his praises, but Traffaut was also an important film critic and author. His works include a book-length interview with one of his heroes, Alfred Hitchcock.

Truffaut was not just a very good director, he was an influential one, being a pioneer of the French New Wave. He thus helped establish a new style of cinema which departed from the traditional film making of the time. Now there were clever uses of the camera in the name of story telling. Now there were experiments in themes often dealing with existentialism. Now there was cinema that kept pace and influenced a rapidly changing Western Culture. The New Wave style would help bring about the cinematic revolution of the Seventies (that actually began in 1967).

Follows are a few thoughts on some of Truffaut's films:

400 Blows (1959) is considered by many the forerunner of New Wave, it was certainly the film that propelled Truffaut's career. Here was everyday realism told with verve. The film ended with one of the most iconic freeze frames in film history.

My favorite Truffaut film soon followed, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), a satire of American gangster films. I wrote about it at length in September 2008. Two years later there was another of my favorites, Jules et Jim (1962) a film featuring a potpourri of visual styles including stills, newsreels, panning shots and freeze frames. This story of a decades long love triangle was probably even more influential  for future directors than 400 Blows.

Stolen Kisses (1968) was the third of five films, starting with 400 Blows, to feature the character Antoine Doinel who was played by Jean-Pierre Leaud. It is interesting to have a series of films following the life of a relatively ordinary bloke. Indeed in Stolen Kisses he is something of a loser, though successful enough with the ladies. Day for Night (1973) is one of the best films on film making ever made. The cast includes Truffaut as the director. He appeared in or provided narration for over a dozen films.

Small Change (1976) was perhaps his most sentimental film as it follows the fortunes of various members of a small town, focusing on its children. I wrote about it last June. Truffuat's last great film was The Last Metro (1980). This is a compelling film set in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II. A Jewish stage director is in hiding beneath the stage of his still active theater. From there he guides his wife (Catherine Deneuve) in running the latest production.

I've actually yet to see The Wild Child (1970), a film based on the discovery in 1798 of a 13 year old boy who'd lived his entire life in the wilds. However I'll be watching it shortly after completing this post. It's kind of nice to have not seen that and a couple of other Truffaut films, it's giving me something to look forward. Then again once I've seen them all I'll have the joy of enjoying some for a second, third or fourth time.

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