Monday, October 1, 2012

Director Spotlight #10.15: Francois Truffaut's The Man Who Loved Women

Every month, Director Spotlight takes a look at an auteur, shines some light on a few items in the director’s body of work, points out what makes them an artist, and shows why some of their films work and some don’t. September’s director is consummate cinephile Francois Truffaut.

NOTE: Look, I’m tired of typing it out for pretty much every entry, so here it is in the opening: there’s going to be spoilers in this thing, and in almost every entry of Director Spotlight. There’s a lot more to a film than the basic plotting, which is only a small part of the enjoyment as far as I’m concerned. Still, if it’s going to bother you, I’d highly suggest not reading ahead until you’ve seen the movie in question.

Grade: 64 (B)

The Man Who Loved Women is not a major Truffaut film, but it is an immensely enjoyable one. Probably best known these days for inspiring a terrible Burt Reynolds-starring remake, the film is Truffaut’s attempt at Fellini-esque comedy, like 8 ½ or La Dolce Vita. The film doesn’t come anywhere close to Fellini’s accomplishments- it’s mostly surface level material without the probing look into its creator’s mind. But B-game from Truffaut is still plenty worthwhile.

The film opens at a tragicomic funeral for Bertrand (Charles Denner) before flashing back to his life. Bertrand (Charles Denner) was a compulsive womanizer. He spent days trying to track down a young woman he saw briefly in Montpellier. He wound up with a sexually transmitted disease but has trouble recalling the names of the women he slept with. Bertrand began an autobiography, The Skirt Chaser, but his typist quit after finding his material too racy. Eventually his publisher suggested the more appropriate title The Man Who Loved Women as she began to fall for him, but it was not to be.

Denner gives an appropriately charming performance as Bertrand, but the film wouldn’t be much more than a sex comedy without Truffaut’s light touch. The director’s use of a different film stock for Bertrand’s memories of childhood encounters with women give the material a wistful feeling, while the framing device at Bertrand’s funeral gives the light-as-air film a much needed sense of weight without turning maudlin or solemn.

What’s most notable about the film is the mixture of warmth Truffaut has for Bertrand with the sense that his lifestyle has kept him from being truly happy. Truffaut enjoys depicting Bertrand’s exploits with a wake-up call operator, his desires for different sized breasts in different seasons, and his comical pursuits of women he’ll never truly get to know. Yet Truffaut also acknowledges the harm he does as a collector of women. It’s his own obsessions that kill him, but what makes it work is that Truffaut isn’t casting judgment. It’s the same compassion Truffaut has expressed his whole career. 

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