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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.
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