François Truffaut

Les surmenés (1958, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze)

Les surmenés answers the burning question: What if the French New Wave directors made a sitcom? In this sitcom, country girl Yane Barry comes to Paris. She’s won a typing contest, so she’s able to be a… typist, but she’s also engaged to her sister’s boss (Jean-Pierre Cassel), which is funny since they have no chemistry. Of course, she also doesn’t have any chemistry with Jean-Claude Brialy, who plays the other guy. She meets Brialy in the first scene, on the train ride in. Now, it’s not clear if Barry doesn’t have any chemistry with Cassel or Brialy because of some acting deficit because the short is committed to not letting her have any actual scenes. Either there’s narration explaining everything or Barry’s getting chastised for not being serious enough. Any scenes where she seems to have agency quickly turn into montage sequences.

See, Barry doesn’t want to live in Paris and not have any fun. She wants to live it up, all night, every night. Just like her brother-in-law (Jean Juillard) does. Excerpt Juillard is just working (he works nights and he’s addicted to that work). Barry’s addicted to partying. Cassel doesn’t want to party because he works. Will horny guy Brialy want to party with her?

Throw in a lot about Juillard working and his wife—Barry’s sister—Chantal de Rieux not liking him working all night and there’s the short. There’s not a lot to it. Certainly nothing dramatic and not much filmic either. The most creative thing in the film is the animated opening titles. I guess Jacques Letellier’s photography is fine, but director Doniol-Valcroze’s composition is (apparently intentionally) boring. Got to have the boring shots to make the montages work with the narration. But none of it actually works so… Les surmenés is just tedious. It doesn’t help the script—by François Truffaut, Michel Fermaud, and Doniol-Valcroze—is really hostile to Barry for some reason. Well, not some reason. It’s because Barry’s a young woman who wants to have fun in the big city. They could tell the exact same story, hit the same beats, same “emotional resonances” (quotations because no), and not be jerks about it.

I suppose the attitude does give the short some personality. Unpleasant personality, but personality; nothing else in it has any.

Wait—except Georges Delerue’s music, which starts fun and ends up being a sitcom score.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze; written by François Truffaut, Michel Fermaud, and Doniol-Valcroze; director of photography, Jacques Letellier; edited by Marinette Cadix, Albert Jurgenson, and Francine Vainer; music by Georges Delerue; produced by Pierre Braunberger for Films de la Pléiade.

Starring Yane Barry (Catherine), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Bernard), Chantal de Rieux (Solange), Jean Juillard (Étienne), and Jean-Claude Brialy (Jimmy); narrated by Monique Chaumette.


Une histoire d’eau (1961, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard)

Une histoire d’eau has a sense of humor, which ought to do it some favors, but none of the humor connects. The short, which co-director Truffaut apparently intended to be a romance, is instead this rushed, peculiar… blathering would be the best word for it, I think. D’Eau is about college student Caroline Dim trying to get to Paris for class. Only it’s the seasonal mountain thaw and there’s massive flooding so she can’t take the bus in. After a series of mildly amusing traveling on the flood waters to get to school—there’s a boat, there’s a bicyclist—Dim hitches a ride with Jean-Claude Brialy. Now, Brialy shows up in the narration—opposite Dim—only it’s co-director and editor Godard doing the voice. It doesn’t make much difference, Brialy’s character doesn’t get enough narration it’d be good if someone better than Godard were doing it. Given Godard edited the short and co-wrote it, the narration seems his contribution. So when he doesn’t even give any enthusiasm to his performance of said narration… well, it’s not a good sign.

Of course, worse is how Godard edits d’eau. He cuts in other footage of the flood from a helicopter, which would be fine but then accompanies it with some silly, jazzy music. There’s no rhythm to the cuts and especially none to the sped up film he eventually goes with. At one point Dim and Brialy are walking across a flooded marshy area and Godard sets it to a dance number. Only they’re not dancing. And even if they were doing physical activities reminding of dancing, he cuts it together all wrong. It’s kind of amazing how little Godard seems to care about the short.

Later on they do stop and do an official dance, which is utterly charmless.

The last bit, when Dim reads off the credits in her narration, is all right. Not enough to make d’eau worthwhile, but it’s all right. And the short’s only twelve minutes and the flood footage is compelling. Nothing else about the short is compelling and no doubt a natural documentarian would do a better job, but the flood’s something at least.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard; director of photography, Michel Latouche; edited by Godard; produced by Pierre Braunberger; released by Unidex.

Starring Caroline Dim (The Young Woman) and Jean-Claude Brialy (The Young Man); narrated by Jean-Luc Godard.


The Mischief Makers (1957, François Truffaut)

The Mischief Makers is undeniably well-made, with great photography from Jean Malige (if lousy editing by Cécile Decugis) and Truffaut’s deliberate and panoramic composition.

It’s an adaptation of a short story, about a group of adolescent boys who playfully torment a young woman they’re crushing on. While it’s got a couple awkward moment or two, the boys are never really threatening. And, even though Truffaut establishes the woman is one of the boys’ sister, they’re unnecessary.

Mischief would be stronger without them, in fact, particularly since Truffaut thinks adolescent boys are just the most interesting thing ever. The short’s a constant rationalizing of them being little jerks. There’s no dialogue from the boys–instead one narrates from the future; Truffaut’s not willing to let them be visibly mean.

Bernadette Lafont is weak as the girl, but Gérard Blain is good as her beau.

Mischief meanders on way too long.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by François Truffaut; screenplay by Truffaut, based on a story by Maurice Pons; director of photography, Jean Malige; edited by Cécile Decugis; music by Maurice Leroux; released by Les Films de la Pléiade.

Starring Bernadette Lafont (Bernadette Jouve) and Gérard Blain (Gérard); narrated by Michael François.


Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg), the director’s cut

This version–now called ‘The Director’s Cut’–originally came out as ‘The Collector’s Edition’ maybe ten years ago (maybe less). The most striking thing about this cut is Dreyfuss’s insanity. In this version, he’s totally nuts… Spielberg edits back in (from the original, excised from the Special Edition) a couple significant scenes. First, showing off Roberts Blossom–one of Dreyfuss’s initial peers–as a complete nut, which is a discreet foreshadowing of when–in the second major addition–Dreyfuss goes completely insane.

One of the significant dilemmas of Close Encounters has always been Roy Neary and his being a bad guy. He goes nuts and drives his family away. In this version, Teri Garr’s put-upon wife is even more put-upon. Where Close Encounters enters in to the unreadable is… well, Dreyfuss isn’t nuts. There isn’t a big reveal at the end when the viewer finds out the UFOs are real and all the pain he’s caused and all the pain he’s suffered are–mildly–justified….

The viewer knows all along Dreyfuss is right and Spielberg manages, in the scenes with the Neary family, to remain impartial. If one stops to think about it, obviously Dreyfuss is a monster. But the film shares his wonder with the viewer and his actions, while indefensible, are completely understandable.

There’s also a lot more ominousness in this version. When Cary Guffey gets taken, it seems a lot scarier, but not for any reasons of addition or subtraction. This echoes at the end, with the silent entrance of the mothership.

The additional scenes give Teri Garr more of an onscreen presence and she’s really great. Melinda Dillon, I probably said it in the Special Edition post, also great. I noticed Truffaut a lot this time too–I don’t think he’s got any extra scenes, but he’s so effective in the last act, it’s a perfect use of him. I’m not sure if Spielberg necessarily got a great performance out of him or just cast him perfectly.

As for Spielberg’s removal of the mothership interior… it really doesn’t change the end result. Close Encounters is on such firm ground, the mothership interior is just a matter of preference….

For example, I’m not actually sure if this cut is better than the special edition.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steven Spielberg; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Roy Neary), François Truffaut (Claude Lacombe), Teri Garr (Ronnie Neary), Melinda Dillon (Gillian Guiler), Bob Balaban (David Laughlin), J. Patrick McNamara (Project Leader), Warren J. Kemmerling (Wild Bill), Roberts Blossom (Farmer), Philip Dodds (Jean Claude), Cary Guffey (Barry Guiler), Shawn Bishop (Brad Neary), Adrienne Campbell (Sylvia Neary) and Justin Dreyfuss (Toby Neary).


Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg), the special edition

I don’t know where to start with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The jokey open would be something about listing the defects and not having any, but then flipping it and not being able to list everything Spielberg does right because his successes are so difficult to work out, particularly in to an easy-to-read, bullet-pointed list. Spielberg makes strange narrative choices in Close Encounters–to a point of confusion regarding the main storyline of the film… is it Richard Dreyfuss and his personal involvement or is it Francois Truffaut and his official involvement? While Dreyfuss probably has more screen time, quite a bit of that time is spent in expository scenes–introducing the UFOs to the audience, showing the experience of those affected–and then the ending is mostly told from the official point of view. But it never feels funny; Spielberg slaps the two stories together and makes it work–even after, at least for the first two-thirds of the film, it becomes clear we aren’t following Dreyfuss because he’s unique in his experience or even his dedication. Instead, we’re following Dreyfuss because there’s something… I can’t resist… important about his particular experience. It’s something to take a loving family man and remove those components and make him… I don’t know the word. Sympathetic isn’t right, heroic isn’t right. If there’s a word for undeniably correct, that one would be it.

The end of the film–I find it odd it takes place over such a short period of time… the last hour takes place over a day and the first hour probably only a few weeks (something about the readiness of the international response makes it feel like it happens every day)–doesn’t exactly belong somewhere else (it’s a natural conclusion to the story) but there’s an aesthetic beauty to it, a sense of absolute wonderment, missing from the earlier encounter scenes. By the end credits shots of the ship going through space, Spielberg overflows the viewer’s imagination. He shuts it down with too much stimuli, too much possibility–to the point, one can do nothing but sit back and let the film do its work.

Part of–I guess I’ll get to it now–Spielberg’s success, in the 1970s, in his first three films, has to do with his approach to people and how they interact with other people. Sugarland, Jaws, Close Encounters–all of them are visually distinctive in how Spielberg shoots people together at home… People spend time together and, especially in Close Encounters, that time spent is more important to the character than it is to the film. Spielberg shows us people in fantastic situations who are still regular people and it endears them quite significantly. He also has that style to the scenes, deep focus, the composition of the shots, the editing. It’s craftsmanship he seems to have forgotten.

It’s also very big–Close Encounters is very big. The ideas in it are very big and here’s the big change in Spielberg, this film being the best example. Very much like Soderbergh does today, Spielberg used to play to a hypothetical audience–and in Close Encounters, he doesn’t worry about anything. And now all he does is worry….

Have I already said glib in this post? No, it’s the first time. Yay. Close Encounters is Spielberg’s best film and, while watching it, it became acutely obvious how good a filmmaker made this film. At times it reminds of Kane and–nothing specific obviously–I never, even when he’s good or great, tend of Spielberg in those artistic terms… but with Close Encounters, I certainly do.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Steven Spielberg; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Joe Alves; produced by Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Roy Neary), François Truffaut (Claude Lacombe), Teri Garr (Ronnie Neary), Melinda Dillon (Gillian Guiler), Bob Balaban (David Laughlin), J. Patrick McNamara (Project Leader), Warren J. Kemmerling (Wild Bill), Roberts Blossom (Farmer), Philip Dodds (Jean Claude), Cary Guffey (Barry Guiler), Shawn Bishop (Brad Neary), Adrienne Campbell (Sylvia Neary) and Justin Dreyfuss (Toby Neary).


The Bride Wore Black (1968, François Truffaut)

I watched this film on a recommendation, since I’ve mostly sworn off Truffaut. I’d read it was one of his Hitchcock homages (and anything has to be better than Mississippi Mermaid) but I really wasn’t expecting so much “homage.” Besides the Bernard Herrmann score, which is identical to his more famous Hitchcock scores, mostly Vertigo, Truffaut fills the first act with enough Hitchcock references, I almost thought I was watching a Brian DePalma movie. The film starts fairly bad–there are no sympathetic characters, except a child, his mother, and his schoolteacher, none of whom are particularly pertinent–and Truffaut asks a lot for his first thirty minutes. He expects the audience to watch not because it’s interesting, but because it’s Jeanne Moreau. Now, while this sort of practice drives old Hollywood films and some Hong Kong films today, Truffaut doesn’t do the extra work to make Moreau interesting. She does eventually get interesting, but it’s an hour in, when the film’s already beginning its long, predictable wrap-up.

Moreau is going around killing sexist pigs (which actually has nothing to do with the plot–all the men in the film are sexist pigs) and part of the grabber is supposed to be the audience’s ignorance as to her motive. Unfortunately, once the motive is revealed and is innocuous and lame, the film loses a lot of potential energy. Worse (since it was only potential energy), after killing two of the men with detailed plans, the others go offhand (and in one case, off camera). Since all the male parts are bad guys and all the non-Moreau female parts are microscopic, there’s not a lot of interesting acting going on in the film. Michel Lonsdale, as a slimy politician, has a lot of fun and he gives the film’s best performance. Moreau is fine, but so distant, it’d be hard for her not to be fine. She’s not doing anything….

While I know Truffaut is the guy who brought Hitchcock back, I really don’t think he gets Hitchcock. I’ve never seen any of DePalma’s gratuitous Hitchcock films so I don’t know if he gets it either (I doubt it), but a lot of what works with Hitchcock is the characters. The extreme is probably Rear Window, when all of the characters are likable, but Vertigo is up there too–when the characters make you feel. Even when Hitchcock wasn’t getting it to work, wasn’t making people care about the characters (The Birds), he was at least trying. Janet Leigh and Martin Balsam give the two most important performances in Psycho, after all. Truffaut doesn’t get that aspect of the films. His characters are flat and he’s all about the set pieces throughout the film. The end is particularly bad, when Truffaut goes and shows he doesn’t think his audience has an iota of intellect.

I should have stuck to my boycott.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by François Truffaut; written by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Raoul Coutard; edited by Claudine Bouché; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Marcel Berbert; released by Lopert Pictures.

Starring Jeanne Moreau (Julie), Jean-Claude Brialy (Corey), Michel Bouquet (Coral), Charles Denner (Fergus), Claude Rich (Bliss), Daniel Boulanger (Holmes) and Michel Lonsdale (Morane).


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