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Le Dernier Métro


This was both Truffaut’s most expensive and most successful 
production at the box-office. Made in 1980, it is a mature, rounded and in 
many ways satisfying film. It picked up a host of Césars and an Oscar 
nomination.
 
Whereas his early new wave works had excitement, originality and flair,  
Le Dernier Métro is just a well-crafted, well-plotted and meticulously 
shot film. Critics were wrong to see it as sell-out to the traditional
movie-making Truffaut had once lambasted. 
In La Nuit Américaine we saw the film within a film. In this case it is
a play  within a film. We follow a group of characters who are preparing 
and performing a play being secretly directed by Lucas Steiner, a Jewish
director who is  hiding out in the cellar of the Théâtre Montmartre in 
occupation Paris. Paris under the occupation provides an interesting 
backdrop, and references to the experience of the occupation are numerous 
(power cuts, air-raids, shortages, the black market) and the theme of 
persecution of the Jews is prominent, but  this is no political drama and 
the resistance thread is a mere sub-plot. As  with all Truffaut’s works, 
the real interest lies in the human beings and their relationships. 
To borrow the words of the play: love is joy, love is suffering.

The principal characters are Marion Steiner, the elegantly beautiful, 
somewhat distant actress and director of the theatre, played by Catherine 
Deneuve (the role was written for her), Lucas Steiner, her Jewish husband, 
writer and hidden director played by Heinz Bennent, and Bernard Granger, 
played by Gérard Depardieu.

Marion is torn between her husband and a nascent desire for Granger. 
Granger is enamoured with almost every women he meets, but especially 
with the costume designer who happens to be in a lesbian relationship 
with an actress. The director of the play, Jean-Loup Cottins, played 
by Jean Poiret (the man who wrote the original La Cage aux Folles), 
has a gay relationship with a young man, whilst the colourful and 
amusing Raymond, props man, cannot hold down a relationship with women, 
so has to pretend he has one. All human life is there.

Deneuve, faithful to her husband and, above all, the theatre, regal, 
gorgeous, oozing with a well-concealed desire for young Granger, plays 
her role to perfection and the camera dwells on her at length. Just 
look at the scene where she cuts her husband’s hair. Nothing new there 
for Truffaut. Bennent plays his role as if he were Jules played by Oskar 
Werner, complete with ruffled hair and bohemian hat. Depardieu conveys 
both sensitivity and physical presence, which is what Truffaut wanted 
for the role. The Nazi theatre critic, Daxiat, played by Jean-Louis Richard, 
is brilliantly two-faced and creepy, and it is with some satisfaction 
that we watch Granger take him on to the street for a beating. (A 
scene based on a true event.)

What I have appreciated on my latest viewings is the brilliant way Truffaut 
constructs scenes and sequences of scenes to create tension and suspense. 
Will the costume designer fall for Granger in the end? Will the Gestapo 
find Steiner in the cellar? What is Granger doing with the record player? 
Who is his friend? Will Marion fall for Granger? Will Granger be arrested 
in the church? The viewer is constantly being posed little questions 
which hold the interest. The film is pieced together with near classical 
discipline.

The atmosphere of the movie is dark. Indeed, the first 45 minutes all take 
place at night (some poetic licence required here because the Germans adopted 
double summer time in Paris to save energy, so evenings were light until 10). 
However, moments of humour lighten the tone: the little boy growing tobacco 
plants by the pavement, Raymond’s little joke at Daxiat’s expense (deux 
gaulles (two fishing rods)/de Gaulle).

Delerue’s score is not especially prominent this time, but there is one 
memorable romantic theme and a few Bernard Herrmann-esque moments to suggest 
threat. Truffaut and Suzanne Schiffman, who wrote the script, include 
references to previous Truffaut works, including La Sirène du Mississippi 
and Jules et Jim. Spoken references include love as a “oiseau rapace” 
hovering menacingly. Visual references to previous films include the focus 
on Marion’s legs, a model Eiffel Tower in the theatre office and Marion 
removing Lucas’ hat. The introduction and prologue resemble sequences from  
Jules et Jim with their archive pictures and rapid voice-off narration. 
He also throws in the odd archive image within the main body of the film, 
as if to say he hasn’t forgotten his new wave roots. All good fun for the 
afficionado. No freeze-frames or irises this time though. 
 
Unusually, the film is completely studio based, which creates an intimate, 
claustrophobic, classical sense. Windows are closed, and Nestor Almendros 
was asked to produce ochre colours in contrast with traditionally brighter 
Technicolor. As in La Nuit Américaine “the show must go on” and in the 
clever final scene Truffaut plays with the audience by confusing fiction 
with reality. Truffaut had planned this to be the second in a trilogy of 
films, the first being La Nuit Américaine the third to be called L’Agence 
magique, about the music hall. His untimely death meant the third 
would never be made.

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