Francois Truffaut, films as a mirror of life

Table of Contents

Introduction 

Francois Truffaut was born in Paris on February 6, 1932. He was one of the most influential directors of French cinema. In addition to his activity as a director, he joined that of film critic, in the editorial office of the Cahier du Cinema. He has also often been the screenwriter, producer and actor of his own films and films of other directors. 

Francois-Truffaut

Francois Truffaut and the Nouvelle Vague 

The activity of Francois Truffaut in cinema covers about 30 years, from the 50s to the 80s, and joins that of other friends-filmmakers of the French cinema such as Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Éric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette

This group of young people, under the guidance of the critic André Bazin, created the most important cinematographic movement of the history of cinema, La Nouvelle Vague, the new French wave that created new waves in other parts of the world. 

Among these countries are also the United States of America and themovement new Hollywood. Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma and other American directors who would become very famous begin their first steps inspired by French Nouvelle Vague

In all of this, Truffaut plays the role of honor: his is the film that made the new independent French cinema known all over the world. This is The 400 Blows which was a great success at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959

From that moment on, things changed radically for commercial cinema. Producers, always ready to follow the trends with which to make money, they go in search of new directors of arthouse films. 

Truffaut fully reflects the best tradition of French arthouse cinema. A rigorous and emotional director at the same time, as a film critic he did not hesitate to crush the commercial films that were released in those years, proposed by the media and production companies as quality artistic films. They called him the cinema gravedigger

The life of Francois Truffaut

Leaud-Truffaut-Cocteau
Leaud, Truffaut and Cocteau

Childhood

Son of Jeanine de Monferrand, a single mother who had conceived him at 18, Francois Truffaut grew up in Paris, with a conflictive family situation that marked him throughout his life. Jeanine did not want a child at all and had attempted to have an abortion. Because of this, the family had sent her to a kind of boarding school for sinners. 

The woman was forced to have the child and then found a job as a secretary in an editorial office. There she met her future husband, Roland Truffaut, an architect. Jeanine and was often intolerant and grumpy with Francois, prevented him from moving and making any kind of noise. The only activity Francois could do without disturbing her was reading. 

The passion for reading was transmitted to him by his grandmother, who also tried her hand at writing and had written a book against bigotry. Francois was raised by her and continued to spend long periods with his grandmother even as a teenager. The grandmother was a cultured woman, against the tide, completely different from her mother, who introduced him to the classics of French literature. 

Teenager Truffaut 

The-400-blows
The 400 Blows

The figure of a distracted, irascible mother, often busy hanging out with her lovers outside the home, emerges clearly in Francois Truffaut’s first film, The 400 Blows, and returns in some subsequent films. Truffaut will not know for many years that his real biological father is not Roland. He will begin the search only many years later while he is shooting the film Stolen Kisses, hiring a private investigator. 

The autobiographical matrix of Truffaut’s cinema, in which his life is mirrored, is also confirmed in this period, where the character of the private investigator appears several times in his films. He will discover that his real father is Roland Lévy, a dentist from a small French provincial town, but will decide not to make contact with him. 

During his school years Francois Truffaut is a rebellious boy, intolerant of school rules. The escapes from school to discover Paris are described in an admirable and poetic way in The 400 Blows. He goes from one school to another without being able to integrate into any context. At home he experiences a situation of discomfort where his parents fight constantly. 

Luckily she meets Robert Lachenay, a boy with whom she shares the same passions and the same problems, with whom she shares adventures, thefts and afternoons at the cinema. Due to some thefts and his scholastic conduct he is sent to a boarding school from which he manages to escape shortly before the end of the war by finding a job as a warehouse worker. 

Truffaut discovers cinema 

Francois-truffaut

Since seeing film Abel Gance’s Four Flights to Love, Francois Truffaut has become passionate about cinema and founded a film club close to that of film critic Andre Bazin. André Bazin decides to go and meet his little boy competitor. However, his father finds him and hands him over to the police who send him to a reformatory. Andre Bazin helps him get out of the institute. Truffaut finds work as a laborer and falls in love with a girl who does not reciprocate his feelings. 

Desperate for love disappointment, he enlisted for the war in Indochina. However, military life soon became unbearable: he deserted and was again guilty of a crime. Bazin helps him again by advising him on how to get out of trouble, acting as his tutor and father figure. He makes it known to some newsrooms that deal with cinema, with which Francois begins to collaborate. 

He found him a job at the French Ministry of Agriculture and hosted him at his home in Bry-sur-Marne. Then he hires him as a film critic in the editorial staff of Cahiers du cinema, a recently created magazine. In the editorial office he meets other young film critics, future directors: Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, Jacques Demy, Éric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard.

Le Cahiers du cinema 

In 1953 he wrote the famous article A certain trend of French film, a merciless criticism of the films that were released at that time in France, openly affirming what many directors think in silence. Historically, the publication of Truffaut’s article coincides with the beginning of the Nouvelle Vague movement. The following year he made his first film, the short film Les mistons,and writes the script Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard.

He dedicates himself to writing short stories in the magazine Le parisien. In the cinema he practices as assistant director of Roberto Rossellini. Meanwhile, he continues his journalistic activity by interviewing Alfred Hitchcock. After finding the novel Jules and Jim by chance on a stall, he becomes a great friend of its author, Henri-Pierre Roché. Later he will make two films of his literary works by him.

Francois Truffaut’s films 

The-American-Night
The American Night

In 1957 he founded his production house Les films du carrosse. The name is a tribute tofilm Jean Renoir’s La carosse d’or. He shoots another melancholy and poetic short film inspired by his sentimental vicissitudes: Les mistons

He marries Madeleine, they have two children, but the marriage lasts only a few years. In fact, Truffaut will prove to be a real compulsive seducer who goes from one love at first sight to another, falling in love with practically all of his actresses.

The 400 Blows 

The-400-Blows
The 400 Blows

In 1959 he made his first feature film The 400 Blows, a great success at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the film that together with Jean-Luc Godard’s A bout de souffle makes the French Nouvelle Vague famous all over the world. 

It is an almost totally autobiographical film in which Truffaut recounts his difficult and turbulent adolescence in Paris. The small house where the protagonist Antoine Doinel sleeps in the hallway of the entrance, the difficult relationship with his mother who accidentally surprises on the street with one of her lovers, the thefts, the search for a freedom that seems impossible, the experience at the reformatory. 

The 400 Blows is a deeply authentic and moving film in which Francois Truffaut gets completely naked. To play his alter ego Antoine Doinel calls a 13-year-old boy Jean Pierre Leaud, found by chance with an ad for the audition of the film on France Soir. 

Stolen-kisses
Stolen Kisses

Jean-Pierre is very similar in life to the protagonist of the film: a boy intolerant and rebellious to the rules of a society he cannot understand. There isn’t much distance between Antoine Doinel’s character and the aspiring little actor who will play him.

It is the beginning of a long collaboration that will last many films, the so-called Antoine Doinel film cycle. Truffaut invents this little boy character and follows him in his growth until maturity, using him as a cinematic mirror of his life experiences. Jean Pierre Leaud will always play Antoine Doinel over time. 

Jules is Jim

Jules-and-Jim
Jules and Jim

Thanks to the success of his first film Francois Truffaut can also afford to be a producer, financing the shooting of The Testament of Orpheus, by Jean Cocteau. The director’s popularity increased in 1965 with the film Jules and Jim. In 1968 he invitedto marry the Claude Jade female protagonist of his film Stolen Kisses, one of the films that continues the saga on the character of Antoine Doinel. 

But Truffaut does not show up for the wedding and prefers to devote himself to political activism in favor of the French May. The director and the actress will still remain friends and will make new films together. 

The-Man-Who-Loved-Woman
The Man Who Loved Woman

Francois Truffaut seems to be the real-life reflection of the protagonist of his film The Man Who Loved Women. He falls in love with almost all the female protagonists of his films. The last of the long series is Fanny Ardant, protagonist ofat the beginning of the 80s Let It Be Sunday and The Woman Next Door

Truffaut is an actor in supporting roles in his films The story of Adele H, The Man Who Loved Women, while he stars in his films The Wild Child, The American Night, The Green Room

Francois Truffaut interview Hitchcock

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Truffaut was a great admirer of the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock At that time it was only considered entertainment. Together with his other Cahier du Cinema colleagues such ashad the merit Claude Chabrol, he of re-evaluating the work of the thriller master, to the point of making him considered a director of arthouse films

Truffaut-hitchcock

Over the years Truffaut has interviewed Hitchcock many times. A series of interviews that start from the cinematographic technique to reveal the interesting and complex personality of the American director. The fruit of this series of interviews and the book Cinema according to Hitchcock.


Love On The Run

After seven years, Antoine and Christine divorce, while remaining good friends. Antoine is in a relationship with Christine’s friend Liliane, has published an autobiography about his loves and finds work as a proofreader and also begins a cheerful, if tumultuous relationship, with Sabine, a saleswoman in a record store.

With Love On The Run, Truffaut concludes a unique project in the history of cinema. He shoots five films over the course of twenty years following the growth of a single character, Antoine Doinel, always played by the same actor Jean-Pierre Léaud. Love flees is the last film in the cycle, the film that takes stock of all previous adventures.

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Truffaut’s reflections on cinema 

Here are some interesting reflections of the director on cinema and the technical and artistic aspects of his work, more mysterious links that are created between cinema and the life of a movie director. Very precious thoughts and ideas, both for those involved in cinema and for those who watch it as a spectator.

“There is, in the very idea of ​​the cinematographic show, a promise of pleasure, an idea of ​​exaltation that contradicts the movement of life, that is the descending slope: degradation, aging and death. I 

summarize and simplify: the show is something that grows , life something that descends and, if you accept this vision of things, it will be said that the show, contrary to journalism, fulfills a mission of lies, but that the greatest showmen are those who manage not to fall into lies and who make the public accept their truth, without however violating the fundamental law of the spectacle. 

These make them accept their truth and also their madness, because we must not forget that an artist must impose his own particular madness on an audience less mad than himself or whose madness is different. “

Cinema as the art of prose

” For me, cinema is an art of prose. Definitely. It is a matter of filming beauty without having the ria. I care enormously about this, and that’s why I can’t take the hook of Antonioni, too indecent. Poetry exasperates me, and when someone sends me poems in letters, I trash them immediately.

I love poetic prose, Cocteau, Audiberti, Genêt and Queneau, but only prose. I love cinema because it is prosaic, it is an indirect, unacknowledged art, it hides at the very moment it shows. The filmmakers I love all have a modesty in common that makes them similar at least on this point. 

The-Man-Who-Loved-Woman
The Man Who Loved Woman

Buñuel who refuses to shoot the same shot twice, Welles who shortens the “beautiful” shots until they are illegible, Bergman and Godard who work at full speed so as not to give importance to what they do, Rohmer who imitates the documentary, Hitchcock so emotional as to seem to think only of money, Renoir pretending to rely on chance, all instinctively reject the poetic attitude. “

” I don’t know if I’m reactionary, but I don’t agree with the critical tendency which consists in saying: «After such a film, we will no longer bear to see well-connected stories, etc.». While I love such new films as Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Barrier, The Man Isn’t a Bird and others, I believe that if The Ambersons ‘Splendor, The Golden Carriage or The Red River came now, in the’ 67, would be the best films of the year. 

So, I am determined to continue the same cinema which consists of both telling a story and pretending to tell a story, it’s the same thing. After all, I’m not modern, and if I pretended to be, it would be artificial. In any case, I wouldn’t be happy with that, which is reason enough not to. “

Jules-and-Jim
Jules and Jim

The movies and the audience

” The show, the language, my movies are circus performances, that’s what I want them to be. I would never show two elephants acting from start to finish. After the elephants comes the magician; after the magician, the bear. I also set up an interval towards the sixth reel because it can happen that people are a little tired. On the seventh reel I pick up the situation and try to conclude with the best things about the show.

I think it is necessary to think about the public. I no longer believe that idea that once seduced me – it was Otto Preminger who told me in an interview and other filmmakers say it too – according to which there is no problem with the public: “If I like something, I know it will like it. to the public”. That’s not true, it’s more complicated than that and, at the moment, I think the opposite. 

I believe that an idea that an artist likes, by definition, must be displeased to the public. Because? Because the artist is someone outside of society, and addresses society. So, it is a question of imposing one’s originality on people, and not of going towards their banality; yes, things must be said as they are. 

Currently, I strongly believe in the work of imposing one’s originality. It is a work of persuasion and the company becomes a match with the people. I feel this every time I see one of my films in public. I feel that this idea scandalizes and that the next one passes, that the next one scandalizes, etc. “

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Creating emotions with images

” I love this aspect very much, despite everything that may seem obnoxious, that is the calculation, possibly the cunning, it seems to me that this is part of our work. 

You have to know what you want to achieve and, above all, don’t want to achieve but one thing at a time. It’s about creating emotions. So, in front of each shot, let’s pause to reflect: how to create this emotion? Anything that enters the film, the scene or the frame, and which does not answer this question, becomes a parasitic element that must be rejected. 

We work in an area that is both literary, musical, and plastic; we must relentlessly simplify to the extreme. The film is a boat that only asks to sink, it is never something that grows and progresses; I assure you that it is something that goes to the bottom and that inexorably degrades. If you ignore this law, you are fried. “

The non-cinephile audience

” The other day I saw North by Northwest and half an hour before the end I heard a man behind me say to his neighbor: “It’s not a bad movie”; it is an extraordinary phrase because it reveals the mentality of occasional spectators, not cinephiles; a film is nothing but jelly after all! That fellow was a difficult, skeptical viewer and said, “It’s not a bad movie” and I was happy for Hitchcock. 

francois-truffaut-set

This film, North by Northwest, lasts two hours, half of the floors are made up in the laboratory or in the filming phase, there are mattes, amazing virtuosities, a love of the craft and an extraordinary science. It’s a completely personal, intimate film, Hitchcock’s obsessions, his quests, but that good man, who had walked in there by accident, had to follow, had been hooked. 

It’s a good thing. For me, this is cinema. I believe in this kind of match. You have immense responsibilities. I also believe that one enters the cinema by chance and that there should no longer be categories of spectators; that the warned spectator, the one who sees a hundred films a year, the cinephile finds more things than the one who goes to the cinema once a year, is normal, but the film must appear externally in the same way for both of them. “

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arthouse-films-indiecinema

Hitchcock and Renoir: different ideas of cinema

I admire in Hitchcock the answers to the question: how to make oneself understood? I like this way of multiplying events, of breaking up difficulties in order to solve them one by one, this extreme stylization of the image. one thing to show, therefore it is necessary to remove everything that bothers around.

Often Hitchcock’s work contradicts Renoir but I aspire to a form that will be the synthesis of the two. In the course of a scene, Renoir sacrifices everything to the comfort of the actors. Well, Renoir thinks, if the actors are more happy to be seated on the staircase, they will be made to sit on the staircase, if they want to eat an apple, they will be given an apple and this comfort which he favors is a comfort of The moment is a convenience of all the space around the camera, and in front of it there is a condition, it is necessary that the actors feel at ease to interpret the scene with the maximum of reality.

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred-Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock is the other way around. We want to keep this well-defined portion of space on the screen. We have around 140 technicians, a staircase, three windows, a crane, some projectors, but the public will only see the portion of the image that I, Hitchcock, need to integrate it into the succession of shots.

For this portion of the image to have the maximum effectiveness, perhaps the male interpreter must be crouched on a stool and the girl he embraces must be suspended by her feet from a winch connected to the ceiling of the studio, or I don’t know what other … Aren’t they happy?

Hitchcock doesn’t even want to know. What matters is what will be in the image. The visual effect to be obtained – often first drawn on paper – will be obtained at whatever cost. Here is a cinema which is obviously the opposite of Renoir’s; is a more logical cinema than Renoir’s because actually what the spectators will see in the room is just this small rectangle and this small selected space that are the object of so much attention by Hitchcock, who, in spite of an unreality total in the shooting phase, it reaches the maximum effectiveness, the maximum effect on the whole room, in the whole world, at the same time.

I find this courage formidable in Hitchcock, because it takes courage to do unreal things during filming… It’s amazing to know at that point: a) what you want to achieve, b) how to get it, that you are right and hold on. And this applies to everything. “

Jean Renoir

Jean-renoir

Renoir is proof that you can do everything in the cinema on condition that you approach things with frankness and simplicity. It is said of him that he is a family filmmaker, but he has also done very lyrical things, a lot delusional who succeeded him thanks to his spirit of simplicity, his humility. I know all of Renoir’s films by heart and I always guess how and why he did things.

When I have difficulties in my films, I solve them by thinking about him. I have often helped actors find the right tone for a scene by reflecting on how Renoir would have made it play.

I have an idea, if you like, which is as interesting as all ideas, a little crazy too, like any ideas too theoretical, and that is that there is a possible reconciliation between Renoir and Hitchcock, between the end of the film the characters that Renoir, and the extreme situations of the film that Hitchcock.

On both sides there are of the drawbacks; I believe in Hit shock these should be sought on the side of realism, of humanity; and in Renoir, in the weakness of certain situations. I believe in a mixture. “

The New Wave

Breathless
Breathless 

I believe there are two types of cinema, one that descends from Lumière and the other by Delluc. Lumière invented cinema to film nature or action. Delluc, who was a writer and critic, thought that this invention could be used to film ideas, or actions, which had a meaning other than the obvious one, and thus, possibly, to get closer to the other arts.

The result is that we have Griffith, Chaplin, Stroheim, Flaherty, Gance, Vigo, Renoir, Rossellini (and closer to us Godard) in the Lumière field; and Epstein, L’Herbier, Feyder, Grémillon, Huston, Bardem, Astruc, Antonioni (and closer to us Resnais) in the Delluc field. For the first group, cinema is essentially a show, for the second it is a language. The critics, incidentally, are increasingly sympathetic to the Delluc group, and it is understandable since Louis Delluc is their patron.

I’m trying to say that the first group makes films with a kind of spontaneous or recreated innocence – trains arriving at the station, children eating, the sprinkler watered – while the second deals, more deliberately and intellectually, with moral conflicts, with characters who do not look at us as they speak. I’m simplifying, of course, but not too much.

This distinction has become less true since the appearance of the New Wave, because people like Agnès Varda, Doniol-Valcroze, Chabrol are playing a kind of double game: Lumière-Delluc.

But the New Wave has been so criticized for its excessively literary aspect that I think it is fair to distinguish two major tendencies within it: a) the Sagan tendency: it tries to be more explicit on issues relating to sex and love; prefers portraits of artists or intellectuals; cultured, wealthy and apparently lacking in cordiality. A few titles: I cousins ​​(Chabrol), La Proie pour l’ombre (Astruc), La récréation (Moreuil), Les mauvais coups (Leterrier), Les grandes personnes (Valère), Ce soir ou jamais (Deville).

b) The Queneau trend: tries to explore a daily vocabulary; he prefers unexpected and comic encounters between people who generally belong to the working class or who are just outside it; he has a taste for mixed genres and changes of tone; a sort of “pink and black” tenderness. Some titles: Zazie in the metro (Malle), Un couple (Mocky) (of course!), But also Easy women (Chabrol), Pull up on the pianist (Truffaut), Lola (Demy), La donna è donna (Godard), Desideri in the sun (Rozier). “

” I think the starting point is different every time. I think in relation to cinema and I believe that the point in common between my different films is the result of reflections on other existing films and also on those that I have made. “

The screenplay

Truffaut and Godard

” It is easier for me to write an original screenplay, unless I have chosen a sufficient number of ideas on the subject in mind, but I have less difficulty inventing a screenplay than adapting a book. In the shooting phase, it is exactly the opposite. Let’s say, you don’t encounter the same difficulties. On the other hand, I couldn’t just shoot original scripts, because I’m too realistic.

I realized that I can’t invent anything violent, because I don’t have the courage. I don’t dare introduce a revolver, a rifle into the film, I don’t dare imagine a suicide, a death. So I stay in the newspaper if I write a screenplay alone or with a friend. However these exceptional things, I love to see them in movies and I like to film them if I have already found them written.

That’s kind of what happened with Jules and Jim. Scenes like that of the car falling into the water, in the end, or even the crematorium I would never have dared to invent by myself. “

Staging

” What exactly is staging? It is the set of decisions taken during the preparation, shooting and editing of a film. I believe that all the choices offered to a director (choice of subject, ellipses, places, actors, collaborators, angles, objectives, shots to do, noises, music) lead him to decide, and what is called directing is evidently the common direction towards which the thousands of decisions taken during these six, nine, twelve or sixteen months of work tend.

For this reason “partial” directors, those who deal with only one stage, even if they are rich in talent, interest me less than Bergman, Buñuel, Hitchcock, Welles who are totally in their films. “

Filming

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” After a screenplay, Jean -Louis Richard and I, we always have the impression that it is very clear, logical and unambiguous. Then, during the shooting, something subversive creeps into the work, already in the choice of the actors … I sense that the shooting is not necessarily the continuation of the writing. By filming I no longer want to shake the audience, nor dominate them, nor put their backs to the wall, I no longer feel the imperative desire to be effective.

It is a curious and compelling fact. Let’s not forget that in forty films, Renoir has never been able to film someone who was hateful; even the big Dalban in Toni is delightful when he talks about his woman.

So I believe that this spirit presides over the European way of making cinema, and that is why we will always be far from Hollywood even if we always peek that way. During the shooting we feel very strongly a feeling that can be expressed as follows: let’s not give it to the public to drink, let’s not try to hide that we are going to shoot a film. “

Filming on a soundstage

I have never shot in a drama theater . It is not a question of principle: economics and aesthetics at the same time, because in order to have in the studio the equivalent of what I have found so far in natural environments, it would be necessary to have sums not conceivable in the French estimates. that gave me the authentic chalet of Jules and Jim can not be assessed in the study estimates.

Apart from the inability to go with a single shot from the outside in, from the ground floor to the first floor, the study would have been deprived of random surprises, like the fog sequence. The other day they called me from Burt Lancaster’s production, The Train, and asked me how we got the fog in Jules and Jim. I told them to go to Alsace. They are coincidences and the coincidences must be deserved. “

The dialogues

” After all, I arrived at the cinema through the dialogues: I learned them by heart. I knew everyone from The Crow, everyone from Prévert and everyone from Renoir. Only later did I hear about “staging” from Rivette. The instinct was to get drunk on movies to know the soundtrack by heart, dialogue and music. This is why I disagree with the opponents of dubbing.

I can quote Johnny Guitar, who is probably of greater importance in my life than in that of its author Nicholas Ray. Well, I almost like the dubbed version of Johnny Guitar more than the original version, and I can also tell you that certain things about the Pianist, for example, are influenced by the tone of Johnny Guitar’s dub: “Play something on it, Mr. Guitar …”.

The style

“Adopting a particular style, outside the needs of the subject, is the defect par excellence. I never really knew what a” style “is, nor what style is. The form of a film presents itself to my spirit at the same time than the idea of ​​the film; if I think I have to film a couple kissing I don’t ask myself a month before: will they kiss in the sun or in the rain.

No, it’s already all in my head when the idea comes to me, complete : they will kiss … in the rain … it will be time to leave the office … people will pass in front of them and behind them … they will feel their teeth colliding … his scarf will look like a tea towel, etc … Free to do the opposite. last moment: sun, no one on the street … but if I hadn’t visualized the scene immediately, I would have discarded it from the script.

The work of cinema is so particular that there is no pleasure in talking about cinema with literati or often with reporters. I like talking to Rivette, Aurel, Hitchcock obviously, but I think a guy like Robbe-Grillet doesn’t understand anything yet, so far I mean. I never go to lunches so as not to have to answer questions about cinema. “

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