13 Chapters
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Introduction: The Secret of the Art

Gillain, Anne Indiana University Press ePub

 

FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT BELIEVED THAT FILMMAKERS FROM THE past were the guardians of a lost secret, a nostalgia which haunted him. His achievement, having studied the art of his predecessors, was to know how to replicate this secret in his films. Since the appearance of his first film, The 400 Blows, Truffaut’s work has moved audiences of all nationalities, ages, and cultures around the world. Thirty years after its creation, however, his oeuvre remains mysterious in terms of its dynamics, strategies, and aims. The qualities for which he is generally known (clarity, intelligence, sensitivity, humor), unremarkable in themselves, are not sufficient to explain fully the strange hold that his films have exercised over the imagination of spectators. The aim of this book, therefore, is to explore this phenomenon and respond to the three main questions that it prompts: What does Truffaut say in his films? How does he say it? Why do people everywhere listen to it?

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11 The Role of Play: Confidentially Yours (1983)

Gillain, Anne Indiana University Press ePub

A MISTY MARSH IN THE EARLY MORNING, A HUNTER RETURNING from his hide; a rifle shot, the hunter collapses, his face covered in blood. This is how Confidentially Yours begins. Massoulier is dead. Those who are familiar with Truffaut’s films know him without ever having seen him: his name appears recurrently from the time of The Bride Wore Black – Massoulier is Corey’s friend, from whose dialogue we learn that Massoulier “did” the hostess on the Montreal-Paris flight. In Two English Girls, the female photographer tells Claude Roc that she could meet him as a soirée at Massoulier’s place – where he waits in vain for her; in The Last Metro, Nadine makes the same remark to Bernard Granger. We also encounter, once again, the detective agency from Stolen Kisses, and the perverse fetishist from The Man Who Loved Women. As in The Soft Skin, the heroine, Barbara (Fanny Ardant), occupies room number 813 in the hotel, as a tribute to Maurice Leblanc;1 her surname is Becker, in homage to the director.2 At the beginning of the film, while the wife of Barbara’s boss lies murdered, one shot alludes to a phrase by Cocteau by framing a watch on the corpse’s wrist that continues ticking away the seconds;3 at the end, to unmask the murderer, the police inspector gives a recipe for potato salad over the phone that comes straight out of The Rules of the Game. The declaration of the lawyer – “Life is not a novel” – plays on the title of Resnais’s film.4 The Green Room points to cinema as a celebration of memory; Confidentially Yours illustrates this affirmation in a playful mode. The film is packed with internal references to Truffaut’s other works and citations of the master filmmakers. There is practically no shot, no phrase that does not involve a cinematic memory of one sort or another. Even the use of black and white is meant to evoke images from the past: “Confidentially Yours attempts to restore the mysterious, brilliant, nocturnal atmosphere of the American crime comedies that delighted us in years gone by. I think that the use of black and white will help us to recover that vanished charm.”5

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5 Criminal Women: The Bride Wore Black (1967), A Gorgeous Girl Like Me (1972)

Gillain, Anne Indiana University Press ePub

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK ENDS AT THE POINT WHERE A GORGEOUS Girl Like Me begins: namely, in a prison. Julie Kohler and Camille Bliss have both burned their bridges with society and have taken the plunge that tips them from marginality into criminality. Their respective fates are as different as the tone of the films they inhabit, but whether virgin or prostitute, silent or loquacious, they both pursue the impulse of an obsession that imparts a strength to them no one can resist. They move like a hurricane across the lives of five men who are transformed into marionettes in their hands. The Bride Wore Black and A Gorgeous Girl Like Me share, in fact, a narrative pattern that picks up the schema of Truffaut’s first short film, Les Mistons (1957). In The Bride Wore Black, the woman in mourning who has lost the man she loves is a counterpart to Bernadette in the earlier film: as Truffaut said, “The men whom Jeanne Moreau meets are the mistons [mischief makers] who have grown up.”1 Moreover, in A Gorgeous Girl Like Me, it is Bernadette Lafont who plays the female character, just as she did in Les Mistons. Both of these films display a similar tension that constantly operates between images and words, as well as an extensive use of flashbacks as a device for the truth. These bitter women hide a secret, and the links that tie them to their creator are worth exploring.

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Conclusion: The Art of the Secret

Gillain, Anne Indiana University Press ePub

TEN MINUS FOUR = A HEXAGON. AS I HAVE SAID, THIS FORMULA can serve as a paradigm for understanding Truffaut’s narrative procedure. Instead of explicit and abstract information, we find an indirect response formulated in a metaphoric, figurative language. Puzzling at first sight, it can be exposed through an imaginative and ingenious analysis. It requires the interlocutor to engage in mental gymnastics that disobey conventional channels of communication. I will now study the details of these gymnastics because they produce the emotion and constitute the foundation of the psychic well-being that is procured by fiction.

We know that at the very first screening of moving images, organized by the Lumière brothers, the audience, seeing a train arrive at a station, was seized with panic. This was emotion in its raw state. Silent cinema played on this extraordinary power of the image and harnessed it in order to create very refined forms of expression. Fifty years later, emotion had become dulled. “The golden age is behind us,” said Truffaut in 1982 to journalists from Cahiers du cinéma, adding: “. . . in the work of directors who began making films in the silent era, there is an authoritative aspect that subsequently has been irremediably lost.”1 What he envied in these pioneers was their direct impact on the imagination of the spectator. Being the inventors of cinematic language, they were able to adopt “the most radical solution,”2 when faced with a problem, without fearing that they would appear naive. With them, the effect of surprise was assured from the outset. Truffaut knew that he no longer enjoyed the same privilege. The guilty party responsible for this was “French quality” cinema, with its commonplaces and clichés, as he observed in his first critical article published in March 1953, titled “Les Extrêmes me touchent”: “Twenty years of contrived grand subjects, twenty years of Adorable Creatures, Return to Life, Don Camillo, and others like Moment of Truth have created a blasé audience whose sensibility and judgment have been alienated by the ugly and contemptible “fear of being duped” that Radiguet had already denounced.”3 In the post-classical era, in order to achieve the same effect as the great filmmakers of the past, it was necessary to use a new type of coding to give the film power over the imagination. In an age of wariness, Truffaut put in place a narrative system that was meant to elude the perceptual predispositions of the spectator. It depends upon the principle of “clandestine persuasion.” Instead of the direct style of early cinema, he used an indirect style, as in “the raw and the cooked.”4

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10 Fetishism and Mourning: The Man Who Loved Women (1977), The Green Room (1978)

Gillain, Anne Indiana University Press ePub

BEING IMPRISONED OR DEAD, MOTHERS WERE SIDELINED IN Small Change and Love on the Run. The two films that frame them, however, The Man Who Loved Women and The Green Room, are among the films in Truffaut’s oeuvre that most powerfully and tragically address the problem of the relationship between the son and the mother, and the oppressive constraints that its failure imposes on the mature adult. They also represent, fairly explicitly, an allegorical projection of the very process of creation. As The 400 Blows announced, the maternal figure is inseparable from cultural accomplishments. The Man Who Loved Women and The Green Room explore the modalities of this interaction, which is underlain by a piercing anxiety about time and death. Whereas abundance and scarcity, anachronism and linear temporality, and the search for pleasure as against privation seem to be opposed to one another, we find a meticulous diptych that identifies a series of formal similarities. The triadic structure of these films includes a lonely man who has been shocked by death (Morane/Davenne), a woman who is destined to survive him (Geneviève, the editor/Cécilia the guardian of the temple), and an obsession1 (a multitude of living women/a single dead woman). An obsessive fear of the past also appears in the form of flashbacks and photos, narcissistic fusion with a female figure who has disappeared, the benevolent mediation of a male mentor (played in both cases by Jean Dasté), behaviors verging on the psychopathological, and especially in the celebration of an object that is over-valued, a fetish and a relic, that impregnates these works with the aura of what Freud calls “the uncanny.” Maurice Jaubert’s music accompanies both films, which together complete, in an unconventional mode of black humor, the reflection on creative activity begun in Day for Night and The Last Metro.

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