Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Director Spotlight #10.20: Francois Truffaut's Confidentially Yours

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: 67 (B)

And now, an ending. Francois Truffaut was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in 1983. One year later, he passed away at the age of 52. It’s a sad ending to a man who never lost his passion for cinema, a man who was still preparing numerous features at the time of his death. Truffaut stands as a director who, unlike his increasingly curmudgeonly former colleague Jean-Luc Godard, still had plenty to say. But even if his last film, Confidentially Yours (French title translates more accurately to Finally Sunday!), feels like a lead-in to a bigger, better upcoming project, it still serves as an appropriate, lovingly made ending for the auteur. It’s like a final sigh at the end of a journey.

Estate agent Julien Vercel (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has been falsely accused of murder. His wife’s lover was found dead at the same place Vercel was hunting. Vercel’s wife is murdered soon thereafter, and Vercel goes into hiding to avoid arrest. Vercel’s secretary Barbara (Fanny Ardant), who is secretly in love with him, is his only defender, and her series of amateur investigations lead to a number of red herrings, strange characters, and proof of Vercel’s innocence.

Confidentially Yours is some of Truffaut’s thinnest material: the director doesn’t take a particularly nuanced look at the end of Vercel’s marriage, nor at society’s attempts to convict a man before he’s proven guilty. It’s mostly a knowing pastiche of Hitchcock and film noir, like a cross between much lighter versions of The Wrong Man and The Third Man. A direct comparison could be made to Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist- it’s reasonably clever and entertaining, but it isn’t much more than that. It feels like an exploration of a classical style that Truffaut would have put to better use in a later film, had life given him the chance.

But Confidentially Yours doesn’t outstay its welcome the same way The Artist does, and Truffaut makes up for lack of depth with some of his most stylistically playful directing in years. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white by cinematographer Nestor Alemandros, the film could easily pass as a film from the 1950s, with its elegant structure, camera pans, and slow-burning tension. Truffaut stages a number of breathless set-pieces only to pull the rug out and reveal that the heroes are on the wrong track or are dealing with more amateur (or professional) investigators. Sure, anyone with a functioning brain stem will guess who the killer is as soon as they see him, but it’s hard to complain when the film is so much fun and when we spend so much time with someone as effortlessly charming as Fanny Ardant. Truffaut and Ardant were living together at the time of his death. One can only wonder what heights their artistic collaboration might have reached had they been given a few more years.

Death was a much heavier presence in The Woman Next Door and The Green Room, but its brief consideration here almost plays like Truffaut’s resignation that he didn’t have much time left. “Death is a strange thing, isn’t it?” It is not a note of despair, but of acceptance. It’s only a brief note in the film, however. Truffaut ends his film career in an appropriate fashion- a happy ending for Trintignant and Ardant, a wedding, and a final shot of a camera lens falling to the floor and being kicked around playfully by a bunch of kids. Even over the closing credits of his final film, that sense of cinematic zeal didn’t leave Truffaut, and that’s what makes his filmography so inspiring to me. 

Truffaut- All Films Considered.

1. The 400 Blows (A)
2. Jules and Jim (A)
3. Day for Night (A)
4. Shoot the Piano Player (A)
5. Stolen Kisses (A)
6. The Last Metro (A)
7. The Wild Child (A)
8. The Story of Adele H. (A-)
9. Mississippi Mermaid (A-)
10. The Woman Next Door (A-)
11. The Green Room (B+)
12. Love on the Run (B+)
13. The Soft Skin (B+)
14. Fahrenheit 451 (B)
15. Pocket Money aka Small Change (B)
16. Confidentially Yours (B)
17. The Man Who Loved Women (B)
18. Bed and Board (B-)
19. The Bride Wore Black (C+)
20. Two English Girls (C)

-Wow, look at that, no real duds in here.

Short film: Antoine and Colette (A)
As yet unseen: A Gorgeous Girl Like Me aka Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me

Best Actor: Jean-Pierre Leaud (Antoine Doinel Series, specifically The 400 Blows and Stolen Kisses)
Runner-up: Gerard Depardieu (The Last Metro)

Best Actress: Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim)
Runner-up: Catharine Deneuve (The Last Metro)

Best Supporting Actor: Heinz Bennent (The Last Metro)
Runner-up: Francois Truffaut (Day for Night)

Best Supporting Actress: Valentina Cortese (Day for Night)
Runner-up: Jacqueline Bisset (Day for Night)

Best Scene: Run to the beach (The 400 Blows)
Runner-up: The car scene (Jules and Jim)

I'd like to thank you all for reading, and hope you've enjoyed this edition of Director Spotlight. For October, I've decided to write about one of the all-time great directors of horror and thriller films: Roman Polanski. Stay tuned.

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