As a director, François Truffaut incarnates the virtues and weaknesses of the French New Wave. Much of his work reflects the troubled circumstances of his early life— illegitimacy, abandonment, and foster care. At age sixteen, Truffaut came under the influence of André Bazin, who served as a father figure and introduced him to the film society Objectif 49, a group that would become a forum for New Criticism. A noted critic from 1950, Truffaut wrote many periodical articles, including "Une Certaine tendance du cinéma francaise" (1954), in which he attacked the Tradition of Quality and set the agenda to revitalize French cinema.
Truffaut's work as a director is uneven. His first film, Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959), starring Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, was considered a triumph for a new generation of filmmakers because in it Truffaut introduced a more personal, spontaneous style that thumbed its nose at the stilted academic work of the studio directors who had dominated French film production during the postwar years. This film was financed by Truffaut's first wife, Madeleine Morgenstern, whose father owned one of the most powerful French distribution companies of the time, Cocinor. Despite his obsessive love of other women, she supported him throughout his career and was at his bedside when he died of a brain tumor at age fifty-two.
In a number of subsequent films, Truffaut used the Doinel character (played by Léeaud) as an alter ego to mirror his own life, from the misunderstood child and troubled delinquent of The 400 Blows to the tormented lover and failed husband approaching middle age in L'Amour en fuite (Love on the Run, 1978). Truffaut is at his best when immersed in the study of character, as in Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962), in which the innocence, generosity, and tenderness of the three main characters is very sensitively captured, and at his worst when he attempts to imitate Hollywood directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he professed a strong admiration. An example of an unsuccessful effort to imitate a Hitchcock thriller is La
Mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black, 1968), which even Truffaut declared he did not like much.
Truffaut's influence on cinema was international in scope. He conveyed in his films and in his writing an apparently inexhaustible and infectious enthusiasm for the possibility of authentic personal expression in the cinema. Perhaps his most moving film after The 400 Blows, L'Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child, 1970) stars Truffaut as a scientist who attempts to communicate with an abandoned autistic child. Throughout his life, Truffaut believed that human communication could transcend language and culture. No doubt, his influence on young filmmakers derives from this faith.
Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959), Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960), Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962), La Mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black, 1968), Basiers volés (Stolen Kisses, 1968), La Smne du Mississippi (Mississippi Mermaid, 1969), Le'Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child, 1970), Domicile conjugal (Bed & Board, 1970), Deux anglaises et le continent (Two English Girls, 1971), La Nuit américaine (Day for Night, 1973), L'Histoire d'Adèle H. (The Story ofAdele H, 1975), L'Argent de poche (Small Change, 1976), L'Homme qui aimait les femmes ( The Man Who Loved Women, 1977)
Crisp, Ç. G. François Truffaut. London and New York:
Praeger, 1972. De Baecque, Antoine, and Serge Toubiana. Truffaut: A Biography. Translated by Catherine Temerson. New York: Knopf, 1999.
Petrie, Graham. The Cinema ofFrancçois Truffaut. New York:
A. S. Barnes and London: Zwemmer, 1970. Truffaut, Francois. The Films in My Life. Translated by Leonard Mayhew. New York: Da Capo, 1994. Translation of Les Films de ma vie (1975).
-. Letters of François Truffaut. Edited by Gilles Jacob and Claude de Givray. Translated and edited by Gilbert Adair. Foreword by Jean-Luc Godard. Boston and London: Faber, 1989.
By the end of the 1950s, French cinema had undergone a major transformation from a free-market economy to an economy largely submitted to state control.
Stagnation had set in, provoking harsh criticism from a generation of film critics who had grown up with film as a major cultural force. The cine-clubs had developed a
highly literate audience for film, sophisticated in their tastes, and informed about the historical issues governing the development of film. In the post-World War II years, debates about the status of film as art were reanimated by a new generation of critics writing for journals, such as Cahiers du Cinema, and concerns about quality had become a paramount issue at the CNC. Polemical debates about the rigidity of the old guard created an environment receptive to a new kind of filmmaking, one that once again would define itself against Hollywood while looking to a number of Hollywood directors who had gained the status of auteur for inspiration.
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