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May 25, 2010

Truffaut True Faux True Foe

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Correspondence: 1945 - 1984
Francois Truffaut - 1988
The Noonday Press

The Soft Skin/La Peau Douce
Francois Truffaut - 1964
Tartan Video Region 2 DVD

I was hoping the Denver Public Library would have a copy of Francois Truffaut's Films of My Life. They didn't. But they did have a copy of Correspondence: 1945 - 1984. The book will be the closest we'll ever get to an autobiography. The first thing that struck me is that for a guy who dropped out of school at the age of 14, Truffaut was incredibly well read. That might be as much a tribute to French education as to Truffaut's own literary interests. The first several years of letters are almost exclusively to childhood friend Robert Lachenay. The two remained friends through adulthood, with Lachenay trying his hand at film production. Truffaut would also take his friend's last name as that of the adulterous husband in his film The Soft Skin.

What also struck me was the reminder that for all of his critical acclaim, Truffaut's films were not big money makers. Even the Oscar winning Day for Night was a financial failure, although for a while, Warner Brothers was high enough on Truffaut to suggest that he remake Casablanca. The recurring theme is of a filmmaker who turned down big paychecks to make the films he wanted to make on his own terms, passing on Day of the Locust, Swann in Love, and Is Paris Burning? among other films. Of the film he most famously did not direct, his involvement with Bonnie and Clyde was more substantial than I had assumed, with his hoping to cast Terence Stamp and Alexandra Stewart in the title roles. Arthur Penn's name comes up several times, making it seem even less coincidental that he was the one to finally make the film that had been in development for several years. Fahrenheit 451 was also in the planning stages for almost four years, with Truffaut considering filming in French with Jean-Paul Belmondo, or in English with Stamp, before ending up in an unhappy reunion with Jules and Jim's Oskar Werner.

A couple of very nice letters to the ailing Henri-Georges Clouzot dispute the notion that the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers were consistently dismissive of the older generation of "quality" filmmakers. On the other hand, Rene Clement seemed to constantly raise Truffaut's ire. Truffaut notes that in his collection of reviews, he has chosen not to republish a negative piece on Yves Allegret. In The Soft Skin, the main character, Pierre Lachenay, introduces a special screening of Marc Allegret's film, With Andre Gide. Allegret's film includes narration by Jean Desailly, the actor who plays Lachenay.

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Truffaut's little joke in The Soft Skin is not mentioned by Jean-Louis Richard, who wrote the film with Truffaut, and has a dialogue about the film with film historian and critic Serge Toubiana. I'm not able to explain why this is my favorite Truffaut film, maybe it's just watching Francoise Dorleac in what is considered her finest role, or maybe it's the plaintive score by Georges Delerue. What I was unaware of until reading Truffaut's letters was that the film was made during the dissolution of his own marriage, a point also mentioned briefly by Richard. That is Truffaut's own apartment where the Lachenay family lives, and I would not be surprised if someone did confirm that Truffaut gave one of his daughters an album of Haydn's "Toy Symphony", as Pierre Lachenay gives to his onscreen daughter.

Richard and Toubiana discuss the influence of Alfred Hitchcock on The Soft Skin. This is in contrast to most other filmmakers who think that remaking Psycho is all there is to the lesson. For Truffaut, it is primarily in the eyes, looking at the other person, or away, and close ups of hands turning lights on or off. Taking a cue from Rear Window is a moment when Desailly and Dorleac pass each other, and there is a brief freeze frame of each gazing at the other. Richard also notes that parts of The Soft Skin, notably the ending, have their sources in true crime stories, much like many of Hitchcock's own films.

I admittedly snagged a copy of this out of print DVD also for the featurette on Francoise Dorleac. Most of the footage is from The Soft Skin, but some of it is of Dorleac dancing alone in what I assume is a television commercial. Whatever the source of that particular footage, I'm sure it inspired the scene where Dorleac twists by herself in a nightclub while Desailly sits back to watch her. Dorleac's untimely death so disturbed Truffaut that he refused to attend any funerals. Truffaut wrote in one letter, " . . . we live not only with the living but also with all of those who have ever meant anything in our lives."

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Posted by peter at May 25, 2010 12:24 AM


Hi Peter, if you are still interested in Truffaut's "Films in My Life", the Library can get it for you through the Prospector system. There are several Metro area libraries that have copies to lend. Give us a call, and we'll be happy to get it for you.
Thanks, Susie

Posted by: Susie Whiteford at May 29, 2010 05:04 PM