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Francois Truffaut follows in the tradition of Jean-Pierre Melville by
adapting a popular genre as a serious allegory for the darkest period in
French history: the Nazi Occupation. Just as Melville used the gangster
film to examine notions of legality, legitimacy, authority and criminality
in a period when the Resistance were outlaws and the police rounding up Jews
for the death camps, so Truffaut takes the beloved putting-on-a-show
warhorse, and uses it as a metaphor for the conditions of life in Occupied
France: the need to act, adapt and continually discard roles. When
Depardieu's character leaves to fight for the Resistance, he puns about
exchanging his make-up (maquillage) for the maquis.
What Truffaut is most interested in, as in all his films, is the effect this need for constant dissembling has on individual identity and relationships. This wonderful romantic comedy plays like a mature update of 'Casablanca', richly stylised, bravely open-ended, with Truffaut's moving camera wrenching spirit from the claustrophobic confines.
this film is excellent. it's a quiet film where the plot moves slowly,
it doesn't matter. it takes place during the occupation of france of
war II. i don't know how truffaut can do this, he makes films that on
sound melodramatic and silly, but are feel truly real and sincere without
being overly depressing. and this is one of them. i don't know a lot
the german occupation of france during WWII, but its presence is certainly
in the film you marion buying an expensive ham under the black market,
blackouts, the talks of hiding in subways and the oppressive and communual
presence of the germans. but it's not the focal point of the film. it's
about people trying to live normally under stressful situations. their
are not centered around the war, but around surviving with what they value
(their theatre) intact.
it's thoughtful enough to not type-cast its characters based on how they feel about the war and their political positions. a lot of the characters are pragmatic about their situation, such as the director of the play (jean-loup is his name i think) who opposes the germans, but is willing to consider selling the theatre to Daxiat (a powerful pro-german journalist)to save it. all of the crew dislike Daxiat, but treat him with relative respect so that they can keep their theatre running. Daxiat isn't painted as a completely horrible enemy, but was a man who really looked out for the best interests of the theatre company despite the fact that his political views were opposite of those he admired in the theatre company. the people in this film felt real, cuz ideally, we'd all like to think that when faced with oppression from an outside force, we'd be kicking and screaming all the way until we're free of oppression. but in reality, most of us would probably make compromises and do things against our principles to keep what is most important to us (in this case, it's the theatre and its company for the characters here)
in a way, the film reminded me of wong kar wai's in the mood for love in terms of what it does with its characters. it progresses steadily without a lot of major plot points, and it lets you get to know the characters and let them be real, so you never feel bored at how slow things progress. the characters are well written and well acted so that you care deeply about them.
*comments on the ending up ahead*
there is very little that feels staged and over dramatic, and the outcome seems to progress beautifully and quietly. and i don't know what it is about the ending, but i felt strangely uplifted when the credits rolled.
Truffaut does a better job of drawing the torn loyalties of a woman in love than any other film-maker I know, including women. Both "Jules et Jim" feature love triangles between a woman and two men. While Catherine in the more famous earlier work is a wildly bewitching girl, Deneuve's Marion is a beautifully mature stoic, even when her Jewish husband Lucas, hiding out in the cellar, vents his understandable spleen about his isolation on her, driving her into the arms of Bernard, her young leading actor. I cannot understand what another commentator said about the movie not letting the viewer in. It does - and how much more than anything from Hollywood! It's just that it's a film made for audiences with a modicum of experience in life and love. But for those, it's got it all. A plot that literally kept me on the edge of my seat for the last half-hour; splendid performances not only from Deneuve and young Depardieu but also from the craggily handsome German actor Heinz Bennent as Lucas, and the supporting cast; laugh-out-loud funny moments, gooily romantic moments, spine-chilling moments of fright. A declaration of love to women and the theatre. I give it a ten.
In 1942, in a Paris occupied by the Nazis, Marion Steiner (Catherine
Deneuve) is a former cinema and presently theater actress, who has also to
manage the Montmartre Theater and its company. Her Jewish husband Lucas
Steiner (Heinz Bennent), the writer, director and owner of the theater, has
officially moved to South America, escaping from the Germans. Indeed he is
hidden in the basement of the building. Bernard Granger (Gérard Depardieu)
is a promising actor hired to act with Marion in a new play. The survival of
the theater depends on the success of this play. Marion falls in love with
Bernard, but hides her feelings due to her respect for her husband. Although
having a very simple story, this movie is marvelous. The story is a great
homage to theatrics, where not only the persons wants to survive, but also
desire to save what they love: the theater. I recalled the movie `Il Viaggio
di Capitan Fracassa', where theatrics is also honored. It is a love story in
times of war. It is a human story, where citizens are presented trying to
have a normal life, even having to share their sovereignty and culture with
the invaders. It is not corny in any moment. The direction is from one of my
favorites directors, François Truffault, who was born in 1932, therefore, he
was a ten years old boy when this story begins. Certainly he has had a great
experience of life in an occupied country and how life goes on. The beauty
and the performance of Catherine Deneuve are astonishing. Gérard Depardieu
is in an excellent shape and has also a wonderful performance. Although
having 133 min. running time, the film is not long, since the story hooks
the attention of the viewer. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): `O Último Metrô' (`The Last Subway Train')
This is a very well made movie. In particular, acting, writing and
direction are superb and it just goes to show you that you don't need
car chases and explosions to make a good film.
The movie is set in a theater in occupied France. The main concern through most of the movie is that they will come to take the Jewish husband of Catherine Deneuve who is hiding in the basement.
Gerard Depardieu provides excellent support as well and his decision at the end of the movie caught me a little off guard.
So, for those NOT familiar with the work of Truffault, it is an easy to watch starter--easier to take than some of his earlier work for the uninitiated.
One often sees the criticism of Francois Truffaut"s "Le Dernier Metro"
( "The Last Metro") that he had turned to making films in the tradition
of the films that he had scorned as a young critic in the 1950s. Of
course, most of these writers are not familiar with the films that he
had scorned. I would say "yes" he was working in a tradition. He could
almosthave titles the film "Si Paris occupeé nous était conté". Sacha
Guitrywas one of his heroes. But he did call the film "Le Dernier
Metro" and that title points to the tradition of the film and explains
its style.It is true that the early scene where Bernard tries to pick
up Arlette bears some resemblance to the scene at the beginning of "Les
Enfants des Paradis" in which Frederick attempts to pick up Garance. It
must be remembered though that the young critics of the 50s had no ax
to grind with the Prevert-Carne films of the late 30s and the first
half of the 40s. Anyone who watches the clip of Godard from 1963 on the
"Bande a Part" will hear him praise the Carne of "Quai des Brumes"
before deprecating the Carne of "Les Tricheurs". Even their criticism
of Carne that merely photograph his screenwriters scenario, that he was
more a "metteur en image" than a "metteur en scene", had started in the
mid-40s by Henri Jeanson, Carne's one-time collaborator. But getting
back to my point that scene occurring in the midst of the crowd on the
Boulevard des Crime in the Carne film explains its title and
theme.Carne's film is about theater-goers, even his four
theatricalprotagonists all attend plays. Truffaut's film though is not
so muchabout the audience as it is about the theater world and hence
its title" Le Dernier Metro". Before I get back to my point I believe I
should note here that "Le Dernier Metro" was meant to be one panel in a
trilogy on the entertainment world. "La Nuit Americaine" ("Day for
Night") was of course the film panel. And "L'Agence Magique" a film
about Music Hall was never made. In the late 70s Truffaut had a
screenplay for this film ready to shoot and had begun pre-production
but the failure of "The Green Room" caused him to alter his plans and
to film "L'Amour en Fuite".
The voice-over prologue describes an occupied Paris where night workers have to scurry to make the last metro in order to beat the curfew. What is left to our imaginations is to realize that many of these workers are theater people. Jean Marais whose real-life thrashing of the Je Suis Partout drama critic Alain Laubreaux provided the inspiration for one of the key scenes in the film described the last metro thusly in his autobiography "Histoires de ma Vie" (page 159)
"The last metro was marvelous. As packed as the others. It carried all of the theater world of Paris. Everyone knew everyone else. We spoke of the latest concert, of the ballet, of the theater. Outside, it was the blackout, the militias, German patrols, hostages if one was out past curfew." NOTE: "Tout-Paris" usually means " Paris high society" but Marais in the book frequently uses in a narrower sense of "the theater world".
In other words "Les Films de Carosse" had produced a film that represented "the last metro" as the golden coach of occupied Paris. Some quarter of a century earlier before Truffaut made "Le Dernier Metro" he with Jacques Rivette had interviewed Jean Renoir and Renoir told them that in order to do his film on the world of theater "The Golden Coach" he had found it necessary to subordinate his style to a theatrical style. Could it be that there is one explanation of the style of the film? So now Truffaut was returning to the style of "The Golden Coach".
Some other ideas gleaned from Nestor Almendros' "A Man With A Camera". Remember the scene from the beginning of the film that I spoke about earlier, the one were Bernard accosts Arlette. I can still remember the feeling of claustrophobia that I felt the first time I saw "Le Dernier Metro". And of course I was going to soon discover that one of the main characters in the film was hiding in a small room in the basement of his theater. Almendros speaks of using the camera to create a feeling of claustrophobia in this film. He also reveals that it was normal for Truffaut to keep his windows open. But in this film because of its theme and its time period, windows remained shut. Also, he and Truffaut wanted the look of early Agfacolor of films like "Munchhaussen" and "Die Goldene Stadt". A look that was gentler and softer than the vivid Technicolor films of the same period. Thus the set designer were asked for ocher-colored sets and the props and costumes were chosen in subdued colors. Also they changed their film stock to Fuji because it was closer to this look they were cultivating. As long as we are discussing Almendros I think it might be appropriate to end with a quote from his chapter on the film "The Green Room".
"As expected, "The Green Room" was not very well received. The theme of death rarely attracts crowds. This is almost an axiom in the cinema, and by producing so difficult and personal a work, risking almost certain economic failure, Truffaut showed once again that after sixteen films he was still the uncompromising artist he was as a young man." Nestor Almendros, "A Man With A Camera" page 220.
Le Dernier Metro is the portrait of a woman. An ageing, beautiful,
authoritative, successful and famous actress caught in her own personal
quagmire, and that of a strange historical era.
It's 1942 and Paris screams under the German occupation. A quiet scream, at least as portrayed by Truffaut, where Parisiens go on living their everyday lives as close to normal as they can. The German element is of course ubiquitous, always lurking in the shadow of normality like an undiagnosed disease. The black market, the Jewish persecution, the curfew, the collaboration and the resistance, all are accepted as just another fact of life.
The real threat though is the unknown. What will the war bring? How longer will it last? And yet, decency and normality go on being the bourgeois lifestyle of choice, simply because most don't know how to really survive without the city, without its theaters and fashion circles. Without this superficial normality.
In the middle of this strangeness stands a woman disillusioned by her life. Deep inside, this poignantly beautiful, famous, smart and strong woman is empty. Torn between her professional and artistic duties that have increased dramatically since her Jew husband and theater chef fled to save his life, and her ageing femininity and her devoid of passion life, she revolves around the sole remaining centrepiece of her life, acting. Only acting proves to be just another lifeless remain of her previous life.
Should she stay faithful to a husband that she stopped loving a long time ago? Do they both cling on to their failing relationship just for the sake of normality, to survive this strangeness of an era? Will tomorrow ever come, and if it comes will she be too old to enjoy it? Deneuve is perfection. The script has most probably been written with her in mind and it shows. Nowhere in the film is she caught relaxing, even in the most ambiguous moments her eyes are crisp clear on her intentions.
Depardieu is solid but lacks the internal flame his character should possess, probably due to him being influenced by Deneuve's coldness.
Poiret and Bennent are sublime in secondary but very important roles. Richard underplays his character's potential as a threat. The rest of the cast are adequate and in control of their roles.
Truffaut delivers a quiet film with claustrophobic cinematography, low-budget sets, fabulous costumes and minimal music. Just like a real theatre show. The director's brilliance drives through the sharpness of the second World War with a fine comb and picks only what's relevant to the story, and nothing more. A film to admire, but not to be inspired from. And there lies probably the only fault of the film. The nouvelle vague has matured and settled down with a sigh.
Watch this film just to experience the ferociously magnetic beauty and strength of Catherine Deneuve. Or if you really love theatre. Or both.
An almost banal story about normal people which by its naturalness attains a truly remarkable human greatness. Against the background of nazi occupation of Paris with its whole train of treasons, pusillanimities, courage, resistance, collusions and collaboration with the enemy, indignities and oppression, a theatrical company staged underground by its director who is secretly hidden because he's Jewish, puts on the stage a play about love also repressed, a play however which resounds as a freedom although smothered shout in the darkness enveloping France and Europe by then. The acting performance of Depardieu and Deneuve is brilliant as usual although very simple and natural. Besides that, Deneuve is indeed one of the most beautiful movie stars we have ever seen. This movie is also a hymn to the theatre as free expression since ancient Greece, living through the love of those who devote themselves to it, very often with abnegation and in adverse conditions. It must by all means be seen because, in spite of all, it makes us believe in human virtues which keep pace here with the theatrical actors' talent.
It is a strange feeling to read that many critics do not consider "Le Dernier Métro" as one of Truffaut's best films.This is absurd as Monsieur Truffaut was a cinéaste who considered all his films as equal.One is not sure as to how some harsh critics have considered this film as one of Truffaut's commercial projects.The truth of the matter is that Truffaut had always wanted to make a film about Nazism as he had experienced this vicious phenomenon as a young boy.It must be made clear that Truffaut did not make "Le Dernier Métro" in order to please critics,well wishers and admirers.As we talk of this film,it must be stated that "Le Dernier Metro" is an equivocal title for a Truffaut film.It is a title which denotes danger,uncertainty and utter chaos.This is because if one misses the last metro train there would be nothing but unpredictable hopelessness.For denizens of Paris during Nazi occupation time there were good chances that the last metro could be missed by many people who stayed out late nights for theatrical performances.Although this is a film about an artistic "ménage à trois",Le Dernier Métro deals with hidden sexualities of its different characters. It also talks of a restrained love affair which is dwarfed due to two lovers' arrogance. German occupation of Paris is shown in a light tone as there are no scenes of atrocities perpetrated by German soldiers. In this film we get an idea of how artists (cinema and theater) behave in a given set up.It also depicts cold critics who are able of destroy not only somebody's career but also an entire theater production house.Among the actors Andréa Ferréol is at her sensual best.Jean Poiret looks sleek too. The best thing about this film is German actor Heinz Bennent's performance as Lucas Steiner,a theater director who is fed up of his isolation.His character is similar to that of Marnie,a role played by Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's film "Marnie".
The story of this film centers around a theater in Paris during the
Second World War. Due the occupation by the Nazis, the Jewish owner of
this theater (Lucas- played by Heinz Bennet) has signed it away to his
wife Marion (Catherine Deneuve) and supposedly has fled to South
America. Thats what everybody else besides his wife believes however
since he's still hiding in the basement of the theater. She brings him
food and keeps him company while she can but her main attention is on a
new play that the theater is producing and is a decisive one since the
survival of the theater depends on it. She plays the lead actress in
this play and opposite her is an actor played by Gerard Depardieu.
Listening in on the rehearsals, Lucas through Marion gives tips and is
a kind of a second director of the play.
Though I wouldn't call myself an expert on the subject, I think this film does an excellent job of portraying the wartime atmosphere of German occupied lands in WWII. A character I found most intriguing was a theater critic by the name of Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard). Publicly he denounces Jews and says that each and every one of them must be hunted down. Deep down inside of him, a side which he reveals to Marion, he still has a lot of respect Lucas. People are living under constant fear of the Nazis, especially Marion due to her hiding her husband in her basement.
Overall a pretty good film. If you enjoy good acting and WWII era films then this is for you.
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