Tuesday, 6 April 2010


Aah, François Truffaut. Like his Cahiers du Cinema stablemate Jean-Luc Godard he did so much to bring the French New Wave to the world, though he abandoned so many of its most distinctive qualities after only his second attempt at the helm, following the Cannes acclaim and Oscar nomination of his breakout success Les Quatre Cent Coups

Truffaut struggled to find financing for his followup feature Tirez Sur Le Pianiste, instead opting to pretty much shoot it on the fly, employing the characteristics of the Nouvelle Vague as much by necessity as by choice, one must imagine. Charlie (Charles Aznavour) is a pianist, playing tunes in a piano bar, when his brother, Chico (Albert Rémy) enters, chased by two gangsters. It turns out Charlie is not, in fact, Charlie, but Eduard Saroyan, a previously acclaimed concert pianist whose life turned upside down after the suicide of his wife. It also turns out that his family consists almost entirely of criminals, a world he is being drawn back into.

At the same time, a waitress at the bar, Léna (Marie Dubois) is falling in love with him, something Charlie is reciprocating. Whilst on the run, the two escape together, winding up at a farmhouse in the country where Chico and the rest of Charlie's brothers are hiding out, before a fatal final scene.

It's an interesting film, a nice little addition to the movement, holding out in the minds of cineastes despite the cool critical and commercial reception upon the film's release. It is this reception, in fact, that apparently inspired Truffaut to give up on the improvised and loose style so employed by him and his contemporaries, instead moving into the realm of scripted, budgeted and more mainstream cinema that saw such films as La Nuite Américaine spring forth. Not that he gave them up entirely, but rather that he moderated them into something more palatable for audiences of the time.

In Tirez, however, the jump cuts are still there, the leaps in time and narrative, the occasional lack of coherence and the use of real spaces within which to set the narrative - he's still shooting from the hip here. And it does work to a degree. Making it up as you go along is always a dangerous game to play, as it doesn't allow for a great deal of reflection and finessing. Instead, you're lumped with what you've already got and you have to work everything around what was thought yesterday, despite the constraints of today. To that extent, I think Truffaut may well have got lucky with being able to create a narrative as cohesive as he did here. Either that, or he is perhaps the most gifted storyteller and director to yet front this earth. While I think he is truly talented, I believe some of the further most definitely comes into play.

But, one cannot judge for luck. The performances are solid, centred as they are around Aznavour, Rémy and Dubois, who all hold it together nicely. Raoul Coutard, who acquitted himself so well with À Bout De Souffle, does a stellar job here, with many dark, noir-ish scenes where I'm sure he had very little to work with. Truffaut may well have pulled this out of his arse, but what was up there was a pretty fine film. 4 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment