|Francois Truffaut (1932-1984).|
|Jean-Pierre Léaud in The 400 Blows.|
Ray Keebaugh: If someone had never seen a movie by Truffaut, he is not likely to be acquainted with foreign films nor with movies beyond those made in America. I’d recommend The Story of Adele H., then Shoot the Piano Player or Jules and Jim. If his/her appetite was not stimulated enough to seek more Truffaut after those extremes, there's not much else I can do.
Sam Juliano: The venerated critic-director's very first film--The 400 Blows--would be my choice for the newbie approaching his work. My own history with The 400 Blows dates back to the early 1970s and the revival house screenings it enjoyed in such banner Manhattan institutions like The Thalia, the New Yorker and the Bleecker Street Cinemas. The film was almost always paired with Jules and Jim, a 1961 work that cemented Truffaut’s reputation as one of the rare people who followed a successful career as a critic with an even more renowned one as a director. I first saw it as an impressionable 17 year-old, and as such it moved me deeply, perhaps more than any other European film had, and led to discovering critical writings on the film by the most noted writers of the time. In the beginning--as should be expected for one so green behind the ears--it was actor Jean-Pierre Léaud's familial alienation, the bittersweet, seductive music by Jean Constantin, and the most haunting final shot the cinema ever showcased. It sent shivers down my spine and still does today. There is a universality in The 400 Blows that, while not exclusive in Truffaut's canon, is perhaps most accessible in this, a film that is easy to connect with and executed with the director's trademark aching lyricism.
2. What do you believe was Truffaut's most important contribution to world cinema?
|Truffaut interviewing Hitchcock.|
Richard: Truffaut made several important contributions to world cinema. First, he was one of the original theorists and practitioners of the French New Wave, a movement that has had immense influence on subsequent filmmakers. He and others like Jean-Luc Godard first proposed what is called the auteur theory, the concept that the director of a film is its author, the same as the writer of a book is its author. They developed an informal manifesto of a new type of film typified by freedom of style and and an emphasis on personal expression. Second, because for inspiration they looked to the Hollywood directors who, even though working in the studio system, consistently left their own stamp on their films. They brought serious attention to American directors like Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, and Nicholas Ray. These directors had been dismissed by American critics as mere purveyors of entertainment. Third, as Truffaut’s style and choice of subject changed over his 30-year career, he made it acceptable that directors can grow and develop--not just stick with their youthful dogma and keep making the same movie again and again. In many ways, his earliest films can be quite different from those of his maturity.
Ray: It’s something to be argued among critics and “serious” film students. A cinematographer would not provide the same answer as, say, an editor. Different directors would not necessarily agree among themselves, and you may be certain critics wouldn’t. For me, choosing e pluribus unum, I love the eerie ease with which he draws us quickly into stories--often about destroyed lovers--like an unselfconscious poet. Narrative was not something to be sacrificed for his "art." It was what his art served. How he did it so entertainingly reflects the director's youthful love for movies, which, unlike some of his characters, did not come to a shocking, destructive end (except that it was so early). Truffaut also restored dignity to adolescence by weeding out all that false Hollywood Blue Denim crap.
|The Wild Child (1970).|
3. What do you think is Truffaunt's masterpiece and what is your personal favorite? Explain your choices.
|Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim.|
Ray: I love this question because it separates moviegoers from critics. A critic has to regard a director's masterpiece as his favorite because what would it say about a critic's "taste" if he/she didn't? I'd say The 400 Blows is the "masterpiece." My favorite Truffaut movie would be (since I have to choose) Jules and Jim.
Sam: The 400 Blows would also be my choice for the director's absolute masterpiece. No matter what you opt for, the landmark 1959 film remains his piece de resistance in a career that produced twenty-six films. Many regard the film as the most defining in the French New Wave movement, and by any barometer of measurement, it is seen as a definitive work in the childhood films cinema, finishing at or near the top in various online polls and per the declaration of film historians. Yet, the film’s preeminence as a work of psychological insight into the mind of a child has also pigeon-holed the director’s reputation with some as the cinema’s most celebrated director of these kind of films, or at least the equal of the American Steven Spielberg, when in fact the celebrated Gallic has helmed only three films about childhood. Such is the magnitude of The 400 Blows’s impact and continuing legacy that it has succeeded in forging a perception of a legendary director that is markedly in error, though even if it were true it wouldn’t diminish his top level artistic standing. Truffaut's legacy and contribution to world cinema doesn't only rest with his profound studies of childhood, but with the human condition, where he sits with the most renowned practitioners in the art.