Francois Truffaut

Francois Truffaut in his Oscar winning (Best Foreign Film) 1973 film Day for Night (La Nuit Americane)

Francois Truffaut in his Oscar winning (Best Foreign Film) 1973 film Day for Night (La Nuit Americaine)

  • Born: 1932
  • Died: 1984
  • Rank: 31
  • Score: 632.45
  • Awards: Oscar (Foreign Film) / BAFTA / NYFC / 2 NSFC / NBR
  • Nominations: Oscar / BAFTA
  • Feature Films: 22
  • Best: Day for Night
  • Worst: The Man Who Loved Women

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. Day for Night – 1973
  2. The 400 Blows – 1959
  3. Jules and Jim – 1962
  4. Shoot the Piano Player – 1960
  5. Stolen Kisses – 1968

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1959 – 5th – The 400 Blows
  • 1960 – 9th – Shoot the Piano Player
  • 1962 – 8th – Jules and Jim
  • 1969 – 7th – Stolen Kisses
  • 1970 – 5th – Mississippi Mermaid
  • 1974 – 5th – Day for Night
  • 1979 – 9th – Love on the Run

A big deal was made when Quentin Tarantino arrived on the scene in the nineties, a former video store clerk who simply loved movies and had managed to become a top notch writer and director. But he was simply following in the footsteps of Truffaut. Truffaut had been a critic for Cahiers de Cinema, the leading French film magazine, had idolized Hitchcock, was a big believe in the auteur theory and one of the worshippers of Ford and Hawks. Then he managed to become a writer and director, being involved with the two films forming the crest of what would become the French New Wave – as writer on Breathless and as writer / director of The 400 Blows. While Godard decided to play around with experimental film ideas, Truffaut became the master film-maker, quickly succeeding again with Shoot the Piano Player and then lighting the world on fire with Jules and Jim, a movie in many ways directly responsible for Bonnie and Clyde and the whole film revolution of the later sixties.

While Truffaut could never quite live up to his first three works, he continued to have a fruitful career with only a few mis-steps (Fahrenheit 451, Man Who Loved Women, The Green Room, The Woman Next Door), but also some major films (Day for Night, Mississippi Mermaid, The Story of Adele H, Last Metro) as well as successfully continuing over the course of twenty years the adventures of the main character of 400 Blows – Antoine Doinel. Two of the three best films he made after 1962 were parts of this series (Stolen Kisses, Love on the Run) and we might have looked forward to more had Truffaut not died at the age of 52.

Day for Night – #3 film of 1974

Day for Night is one of those films that Hollywood used to make in the fifties about the way movies are made.  But it is different in that it is more enjoyable than The Bad and the Beautiful, less cynical than Sunset Boulevard and more accurate than Singin in the Rain.  If you love movies, you have to see Day for Night.  And if you’re younger, then it is like a class on how movies are made.

Think of the things you can learn while watching this film.  You learn how snow can fill a city square for a shot.  You learn what the various people in the film actually do.  You find out how a stunt can work and the stuntman still survive.  You see how things can change on a set when someone dies.  You even learn what a key grip does.  In the DVD version you even get a reason why DVDs exist (namely because until the DVD was released it was almost impossible to find a sub-titled copy of the film).

That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the film itself.  Yes, it is a movie about making a movie and we get to see the problems on set and locations.  But we also get to see how the people interact on a movie set, how being thrown together so intimately leads to affairs and deceptions and even marriages.  We see that the director is not only leading the film, but also leading a group of people towards a common goal.

Then there are the performances themselves.  First there is Francois Truffaut playing the director.  We get an idea that this is what Truffaut must actually be like on set, braving a new path and keeping the people together and even though the film he is making in the movie isn’t great, the movie that results from all of it is.  Then there is Jean-Pierre Leaud, so often asked to play Truffaut’s alter ego on film, but this time he gets to play himself on film, the leading man, rather than the man these things happened to and though he seems young and inexperienced within the film, we can remember that he had by this point, been playing Truffaut’s alter ago, Antoine Doinel for 15 years.

Then there is Valentina Cortese playing an aging star, past her prime.  Her performance was so amazing that when she lost the Oscar to Ingrid Bergman, Bergman actually apologized at the podium to her directly.

But perhaps the most fitting moment is when the director has a dream of being a young boy stealing stills from a movie house.  That we think of the director as a young Truffaut is a given.  But what makes the scene such pure poetry is that apparently this director, while shooting in color, still dreams in black and white.