The best of François Truffaut

The nouvelle vague‘s most strident polemicist directed its most classical films, a development that disgusted erstwhile comrade Jean-Luc Godard. Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana record the scathing correspondence between the pair in their definitive Truffaut: A Biography; it’s reminiscent of ideological battles between liberals and Stalinists in the thirties. While it’s true that no one predicted that the man who made Shoot the Piano Player would make The Last Metro almost twenty years later, it’s not as if traces of Truffaut’s fealty to Jean Renoir’s structural humanism didn’t peek out.

Unlike Renoir, he had no aptitude for the sensual. I haven’t rewatched Jules et Jim in years, despite its high ranking, because even in the early sixties he filmed the least erotic triad in history. Oskar Werner and Henri Serre don’t seem like best friends, much less platonic lovers who sublimate their passions, and Jeanne Moreau, too old for the part, is too alert an actress to submit to the hooey (by the end there’s a lot of hooey). All the weight of the flesh is absent, and all the shaggy, tangled undergrowth, all the wild darkness,” Andre Gide wrote about Henry James, whom the French never understood; it applied to Truffaut too. Yet I love that I love his 1975 The Story of Adele H, in which his concentration on topography –meshes with the madness of Victor Hugo’s lovelorn daughter, played with staggering intensity by an Oscar-nominated Isabelle Adjani. My obscure pick: Truffaut’s adaptation of — here’s irony — James’ “The Altar of the Dead” called The Green Room, marred slightly by Truffaut’s passive lead performance.

1. The Story of Adele H
2. The 400 Blows
3. Jules et Jim
4. The Wild Child
5. The Bride Wore Black
6. Shoot the Piano Player
7. Stolen Kisses
8. Two English Girls
9. The Green Room
10. Small Change
11. Missisippi Mermaid
12. Fahrenheit 51

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