Reviews and notes
is a commercial success (it has outstripped all Trauffaut's previous movies at the Paris box office), and it could be - indeed has been - accused of both lack of ambition and gilded insignificance. It pretends to be no more than a slick comedy thriller and its main aim is to please. Francois Truffaut seems to have lapsed comfortably into cinematic fatherhood (not to say papa
dom), where enthusiastic comments about the performances and the glistening surfaces of Nestor Almendros' cinematography are all.
The French have for some time been conducting their own cinematic battles around Truffaut, but his lapse appears to have come as a special shock in the curious, post-Leavisite world of British film criticism. Of all movements in modern cinema, the French New Wave seems to be the one we are least prepared to allow to take it easy. It is far too well established as the standard bearer for a certain kind of cinema - one which did all those things experimental cinema was supposed to do (like be formally innovative and engage with questions of social and sexual significance) while remaining watchable and above all of a certain quality. That made it a sort of alternative cinema de papa
, in which the educated critic could find identity and, with it, comfort. It was an easy world in which to be angry, since the important issues with which it dealt were set apart from the social problems of our own environment. The identity and development of the individual director became lost beneath an image of the Cahiers
cineaste, forever young, a hand-held camera in his fist.
Well, those days are gone. Not only has the wheel come full circle, but the idea of a camera stylo
- a cinema of personal expression - has asserted itself with a vengeance. One of the prime functions of the ballpoint, after all, is to doodle. And that, precisely, is what Vivement Dimanche!
is: a masterly doodle, executed with love, skill and flourish. It is a complicated thriller about a man falsely accused of murder in the best Wrong Man
tradition, who is caught up in a chain of events so apparently relentless that it seems as though his innocence can never be established. There is no anger to be found in it, unless one counts as anger a harsh glance at the things men and women will do for money (and men for women), and very little that is cinematically innovative. But then, anger has not really been a part of Truffaut's work since Les Quatre Cents Coups
, and his major stylistic achievement - and arguably his greatest influence on subsequent cinema - has always been verve.
has lots of verve: a verve in storytelling (the discovery that the sound of trumpets heard on a crucial phone call comes from the Nice trotting track), a verve in construction (the cut from Fanny Ardant's entrance line in the awful amateur Victor Hugo play in which she is involved - 'La voila! Elle arrive!' - to Ardant speeding south, still in Victor Hugo costume, in her ex-husband's car), and a verve in the delighted exploitation of secondary details, like the opaque glass window through which Jean-Louis Trintignant, hiding in a storeroom, morosely watches female ankles pass by in the freedom of the street.
True, much of the energy which characterised the work of the young Truffaut has turned to stylistic devices, almost to the point of self-parody, as in the opening sequence in which a young man tries to pick up Fanny Ardant on the street, but good-naturedly accepts that she is going the other way. On the other hand, one can be grateful that the semi-comic, semi-tragic pursuit of the magic woman which has dogged many of the more recent films has here been reduced to its proper status of McGuffin. Trapped in the phone box at the end, Philippe Laudenbach reveals he did it all for women, but the confession, which has been central to earlier works, here registers about as much as the microfilm in the statuette in North by Northwest
The parallels with Hitchcock films are inevitable, explicitly encouraged by Truffaut himself. And, at the risk of offending one of cinema criticism's most unquestionable canons, I would say he brings it all off rather better than the master in his recently re-released foray into similar territory with The Trouble with Harry
. What Hitchcock rather archly does for small-town America there, Truffaut lovingly does for small-town France, artificialised here according to a set of rules as specifically French as those which govern the Hitchcock film are undoubtedly American, with that fascination for the very ordinary eccentric - the diminutive, elderly gentleman who runs the Marseilles detective agency - and the idiosyncratically obsessive behaviour of his more central characters.
In a curious kind of way, the film seems to be as much a hommage to a certain kind of French cinema - Autant-Lara's La Traversee de Paris
, perhaps - as to Hitchcock. Above all, though, it remains a doodle, some of its figures skilfully suggestive, others merely decorative, some undoubtedly botched. But for all that, it is Truffaut's most entertaining and watchable film since Day for Night
- which, come to think of it, was also taken to task for being neither angry nor innovative. Who'd be a battle cry?
- Nick Roddick, Sight and Sound, Winter 1983/84.
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