A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Truffaut x 7 at the Metrograph starting August 15
Retrospective Includes TheStory of Adele H., Small Change, and The Wild Child
Beginning Friday, August 15, Metrograph will present Truffaut x 7, all in 35mm. The most vicious street fighter of the Cahiers du cinema writers turned the tenderest and most emotionally direct of the New Wave critics-cum-filmmakers, François Truffaut was aptly described by Vincent Canby as “a quiet revolutionary who worked in conventional modes to make the most unconventional films,” integrating cinematographic and narrative innovations into each of his fiercely independent movies while imbuing them with a distinct spirit of wistful melancholy that can only be described as Truffaut-esque. In a few films we get a view of Truffaut in full: the Hitchcock disciple (Mississippi Mermaid, The Bride Wore Black), the concerned observer of childhood (The Wild Child, Small Change), the student of romantic and sexual obsession (The Man Who Loved Women, The Story of Adele H), and the autobiographer (The Green Room). Often represented by the same few key works, here Truffaut the multifaceted artist is on display in all his range.
The Bride Wore Black(1968/107 mins/35mm) Heavily inspired by Truffaut’s long engagement with the films of Alfred Hitchcock, The Bride Wore Black is both a subtle tribute and an explosion of Hitch’s themes and styles; the score by Bernard Herrmann is essentially on steroids. Truffaut approached this ruthless, stylish film as a series of suspense set pieces, casting Jeanne Moreau as the eponymous bride, widowed on the day of her nuptials, who has since set out to locate every one of the men involved in her husband’s assassination, and to exact her merciless revenge. “This is what movies are about, this is how they can be done, this is why so few people do them beautifully. Everything is so clearly the result of thought and wit.”—Renata Adler
Mississippi Mermaid(1969/123 mins/35mm) Adapted, like The Bride Wore Black, from a crime novel by “William Irish” (a pseudonym of Cornell Woolrich), Mississippi Mermaid’s location-hopping tale of catastrophic amour fou begins on the Island of Réunion, where Jean-Paul Belmondo awaits the arrival of a mail order bride who might not be what she seems—though he doesn’t ask too many questions, since she’s Catherine Deneuve. A rueful and romantic journey in splendid widescreen from tropical heat to Mediterranean bliss to remote, snow-blown Alpine passes, featuring two of the most charismatic of French screen actors at peak power. Often thought of as Hitchcockian for its mystery of identities, it leans more toward the sexual impulses of later works, most notably Marnie.
The Wild Child(1970/83 mins/35mm) The real-life case of “Victor of Aveyron,” a child grown to the verge of adolescence without human contact, discovered in a forest in the south of France at the end of the 18th century, became the basis for this touching and turbulent meditation on education and acculturation. Truffaut stars as Victor’s mentor, Dr. Itard, and records the boy’s socialization in documentary detail, while cinematographer Nestor Almendros, shooting in high-contrast black-and-white in the 1.33:1 Academy ratio and making ample use of irises, evokes the look and texture of early cinema. Truffaut, who always displayed a flair for a final scene, here concludes with one of his most quietly devastating endings.
Small Change(1975/104 mins/35mm) “Do kids in French villages really run to school in packs?”—Wes Anderson. From first kisses to more sinister secrets, all of the loneliness and sweetness and danger and astonishing endurance of childhood is contained here, in Truffaut’s string of vignettes concerning a group of schoolchildren in central France and their very involved, concerned instructor (Jean-François Stévenin). “A comedy, a romance, a mystery—in a word: childhood—captured, distilled, and transformed effortlessly from sketchbook to symphony in the hands of a master named François Truffaut.”—Anderson
The Story of Adele H.(1975/96 mins/35mm) Self-destructive lovelorn obsession, one of Truffaut’s abiding themes, received its most anguished, full-throttle treatment by him in this passionate and immediate 1860s-set period piece, which draws on the diaries of Adèle Hugo, daughter of the famous novelist Victor. The part of Adèle, chasing after Bruce Robinson’s military officer from Guernsey to Halifax to Barbados while refusing to acknowledge his indifference, gives Isabelle Adjani one of the roles of a lifetime, a fervid fanatic of love undone by belief in the cult of Romanticism that her father had helped to create. As in all of Truffaut’s films, there are ideas in every moment, with even the seemingly most simple set-up infused with the possibilities of cinema.
The Man Who Loved Women(1977/120 mins/35mm) Framed by a funeral, this isn’t your average French sex farce, but rather a plaintive and sometimes pathetic comedy of compulsive Don Juanism, with Charles Denner as an aerodynamics engineer who spends his every waking moment (and the full measure of his scheming ingenuity) in pursuit of the fairer sex. The anecdotal, deceptively meandering structure allows standout parts for a bevy of actresses, including Nathalie Baye, Brigitte Fossey and, as an old flame, Gigi’s Leslie Caron.
The Green Room(1978/94 mins/35mm) One of Truffaut’s most personal and beautiful films, photographed by Néstor Almendros, and one of the least known of his major works—audiences weren’t ready for this stark rumination on death from a filmmaker known for his gentle humor and enchanting personability. Not far removed from his own premature end, Truffaut stars himself alongside Nathalie Baye in this adaptation of Henry James’s short story “Altar of the Dead,” about a newspaper obituary writer who has become obsessed with the memory of friends departed from this mortal coil—represented here by images of the director’s own deceased loved ones.