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The April 13, 1970 issue of the French weekly magazine L'Express
published a review of Claude Berri's Le Pistonée written by François
Truffaut.The lead-in for that review details that Truffaut had asked
the magazine for a chance to write something about the film and it
describes Truffaut and Berri as "friends and colleagues". In the mid
1960s, Truffaut had devoted part of his time to helping young
filmmakers raise money to make their films and he had taken Berri on as
his main assistant in this enterprise. This began a close friendship
that would only end with Truffaut's death. A reading of Berri's memoir
Autoportrait published in 2003 leaves one to realize that some 20 years
later Berri was still in mourning. In early 1971, when upon its release
Le Cinéma De Papa was severely criticized by the Paris critical
establishment, including the dean of French film critics at the time Le
Monde's Jean De Baroncelli and the new chief critic,Gilles Jacob, at
L'Express, Truffaut went to Pariscope and penned an article defending
the film. In the mid 1970s, Truffaut published a collection of his film
reviews entitled The Films in My Life and in a chapter labeled "My
Friends in the New Wave", he reprinted that review. I believe that it
is fitting and necessary that I file that review as it was translated
by Leonard Mayhew for the English edition of Truffaut's book
"After Le Vieil Homme et L'Infant, which I adored, Le Cinema De Papa is probably Claude Berri's best film. If its title gives the impression that it is a film about films, the truth is that Le Cinema is really concerned with the most basic elements of life itself, precisely those things that current films mostly avoid: the struggle to earn a living, money problems, daily bread, the search for a trade, the birth of a vocation, the alternation of good and bad luck. "The humanity of Charlie Chaplin's films is made of the same stuff: the necessity of three meals a day, to find work, to be happy in love. These are the best themes, the most simple and universal. Curiously, to the degree that cinema becomes more intellectual, they are the most ignored. Berri's films never whine; his characters never accuse anyone else of being to blame for their troubles; they believe in chance and luck, but even more in energy. I find this energy in Berri himself, in his work, in his personality, in his life. Cinema requires poetry, sensitivity, intelligence, and whatever, but even more imperatively it needs vitality. "Berri isn't one of those directors who are in love with cinema; he doesn't refer to other films but to life itself. He draws from the source. Like Marcel Pagnol and Sacha Guitry, who are seriously underestimated in their time, Claude Berri first of all has stories to tell. He feels them so strongly that he quite naturally invents and discovers the best forms to communicate them. When he told me about his plans to shoot Le Cinema De Papa, I told him to have someone screen Le Roman d'UN Tricheur and Le Schpountz for him. "But since he prefers good meals and conversations with friends, he never took the time and he was right, because his storyteller's instinct led him to the best solution of the problems the film posed. "I want to draw your attention to an especially original aspect of Le Cinema De Papa. We know by definition artists are, if not antisocial, generally asocial. Before they criticize society at large, they have already been at odds with their families who did not understand them, or who oppressed them. Their vocation is often born of a wound. In Le Cinema De Papa, and in all of Berri's films, it is just the opposite; the basis of his credo could be "My family I love you". When you come out of this movie, you are sure that Claude Berri is not scared in the way of artists who are cut off from their families. Here is a filmmaker who loves his parents. It makes his film even more unusual." In his 2003 memoir, Berri, on different occasions quotes large chunks of this review. On page 204 of that memoir, Berri wrote, "The last time I telephoned François to ask him if I could come and visit him, he answered me, 'But you know well, my dear Claude, that it would still be a pleasure to see you before croaking'. He pressed me to re-release Lubitsch's films, to read Bazin's articles on Pagnol, encouraging me to film Jean De Florette. He wanted me to arrange a private screening of Amadeus for him." Unfortunately, while Berri did set up the private screening of Amadeus, Truffaut was not physically up to attending and he died soon after. On page 284, Berri wrote, "21 October, the same year , the death of François Truffaut. At his interment, in the cemetery in Clichy, all those who had loved the man who loved women were there crying."
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.