François Truffaut, Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Léaud on the set of “La nuit américaine” (1973) | Les Films du Carrusse
“The film of tomorrow will be filmed by adventurers,” Truffaut had said as an introduction to what would become La Nouvelle Vague. “The film of tomorrow will not be filmed by technicians, but by artists for whom film will be an extraordinary and impassioned adventure. The film of tomorrow will be an act of love.”
In a scene from La nuit américaine (1973), director Ferrand (François Truffaut) throws down a pile of his latest film-book acquisitions (on Bresson, Hitchcock, Dreyer, Lang, Godard, Rossellini, Hitchcock, Bergman). The entire film is Truffaut’s love letter to movie-making. The film, which remains one of the best ever about the world of cinema, is about the making of Meet Pamela, and by the name of it, it’s clear it’s not a masterpiece. But that’s not important. To Ferrand, it doesn’t matter whether the film is a success or not, the important thing is the collective process leading to it, not the final product.
“I make movies that resemble those that I loved,” said François Truffaut. I think these words do not ring truer than in relation to La nuit américaine. There are so many references to other films and directors in this film, which was specifically dedicated to Lillian and Dorothy Gish. There are many tricks behind the camera revealed. Even the title, La nuit américaine (Day for Night), refers to the technique used to shoot night scenes in daytime using special filters. And the filming of Meet Pamela takes place at the Victorine Studio in Nice, in the south of France, which has produced movies since the silent days. But it is Truffaut’s love of making films per say that permeates the entire movie.
Charles Denner and Brigitte Fossey in “L’Homme qui aimait les femmes” (1977) | Les Films du Carrusse
Ferrand is always alone throughout the film. The passion from during the day, when he’s on the set the entire time, transforms into a recurring nightmare when he is alone in bed at night, haunted by the image of a little boy who steals Citizen Kane film stills from a cinema where the movie is screening (something Truffaut himself used to do in his childhood). When he is confronted with Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud) wanting to quit the filming because his girlfriend has left him, Ferrand tells him: “Don’t be a fool. You’ve got your work. That’s what matters. No one’s private life runs smoothly. That only happens in movies. No traffic jams, no dead periods. Movies go along like trains in the night. People like you and me are only happy in our work.” Those are Truffaut’s own thoughts.
Film is capable of overcoming life’s imperfections. “To make a film is to improve life,” Truffaut would say. It can manipulate time, it gives purpose to life. Film can even overcome death and being forgotten. Alexander, one of the actors in Meet Pamela, is killed in a car crash during filming, but minutes later he reappears in the rushes. Film can offer immortality. Actors live on through film. Truffaut sometimes acted and sometimes made small appearances in his films (just like Hitchcock). I wonder if that was another way of him of making sure he will be remembered. For Truffaut, his movies were a means of attaining the absolute, the permanent.
And if he did not act or appear in one of his films, one of his alter egos did, sometimes even wearing his clothes. Truffaut often wore a brown leather jacket, usually with a blue shirt and tie, as you can see in the film still from La nuit américaine at the top of this article. Bertrand Morane (Charles Denner) wears a similar jacket in L’Homme qui aimait les femmes (1977) and Jean-Pierre Léaud wears both the jacket and shirt in L’Amour en fuite (1979).
In L’Homme qui aimait les femmes, Truffaut wanted to investigate further the character of Ferguson that he and Charles Denner had created in 1968, in La Mariée étairen noir (The Bride Wore Black). Denner thus followed in the footsteps of Jean-Pierre Léaud, becoming another alter ego for Truffaut. Bertrand Morane is a seducer. He is obsessed with women’s legs. “Bertrand is not however portrayed as the conventional womaniser. Truffaut makes no apology for him, he is not presented sympathetically,” concludes Robert Ingram in the book François Truffaut: The Complete Films. We see him as he is. “He is not arrogant, nor does he force his attention upon women,” Ingram continues. He does not idolatrize some women in the detriment of others. He generously recognises the attractive potential in every woman. They are all unique and irreplaceable. He is capable of traveling hundreds of km to find an unknown woman he barely saw, as if his life depended on it. He is a loner. And by responding to every look a woman gives him – the look of a married woman he sees in a restaurant, the look of a young woman who comes to the window with a book in her hand – he is confronted with his raison d’être. Only this way, by delaying solitude, he has the illusion of vitality.
“Who are all these women, and where are they going? Who are they meeting? (…) I will tell you the truth: they all want the same thing as me, they want love …” At the very end, at his funeral (he was badly injured when he was chasing a woman in the street, then died at the hospital falling from his bed while trying to look at the legs of a nurse – yes, Truffaut saw the humour in the tragic), Geneviève Bigey (Brigitte Fossey) says: “Bertrand looked for happiness in quantity, in the multitude.” She is the only one who got it right. Geneviève is the editor of the book he had written and which is about to be published, “L’Homme qui aimait les femmes” (“The Man Who Loved Women”), which he wrote as a tribute to all the women in his life, because otherwise “I am afraid I will forget”. But maybe he is also afraid of him being forgotten if he doesn’t write the book. A book ensures its writer timelessness, too. Bertrand always wears his brown leather jacket, usually with a beige sweater and a shirt with its collar picking out.
Jean-Pierre Léaud and Dorothée in “L’Amour en fuite” (1977) | Les Films du Carrosse
Jean-Pierre Léaud said about Truffaut: “He lived only through film and for film.” And he says Truffaut gave him the most beautiful profession in the world. Léaud has an impressive career, having worked with many talented directors, but he said he knew that, in fact, he belonged to a certain moment in the history of cinema: La Nouvelle Vague, François Truffaut. He will forever remain linked to the image of the character Antoine Doinel. Truffaut was reluctant about doing another film with Doinel, before embarking on L’Amour en fuite (Love on the Run), wondering whether the character would not lose his charm in adulthood. Disclaimer: he doesn’t.
Truffaut wrote that, in L’Amour en fuite, Antoine Doinel is “always on the run, always late, a young man in a rush… Antoine should stop…running away…he should take advantage of the present… should stop settling a score with his mother through every girl he meets.” In turn, Léaud said in interview with Magda Mihăilescu that “François was obsessed with time, he was restless, always in alert, he thought he couldn’t do everything that he wanted to, he always had two-three movies in his head.” We see the resemblance. Doinel is in fact either profoundly disappointed, edgy, neurotic, or elated and bursting with enthusiasm. The two states of mind Truffaut seemed to have oscillated between his entire career. He was only happy when working on a film and the completion of a project brought his spirits down. Doinel wears a brown leather jacket, blue shirt and tie (with or without a sweater) in the film, the exact same outfit that Truffaut did in La nuit américaine. As Léaud said about his great friend and director, “His films were his reality.”
When he sees his son off to a school trip, Doinel tells him to practice his violin to become a great musician. His son asks: “What if I don’t?” “Then you’ll become a music critic,” comes his father’s answer. Of course, we well know that Truffaut was a film critic before becoming a filmmaker. Truffaut lived for making movies.
editorial sources: François Truffaut: Bărbatul care iubea filmele (“François Truffaut: The Man Who Loved Films”), by Magda Mihăilescu, François Truffaut: The Complete Films, by Robert Ingram