The Extraordinary Career of Francois Truffaut
A CINEMATIC VIEW
Last fall one of the century’s outstanding film directors died. With his 21 feature films, among them such highly acclaimed films as 400 Blows (1959), Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jules and Jim (1961), Stolen Kisses (1968), The Wild Child (1970), The Story of Adele H. (1975), Day for Night (1973), and Small Change (1976), Francois Truffaut has left an extraordinary legacy. Because of Truffaut’s special contribution to cinema and because no current film can come close to Truffaut’s best work, I decided to devote this month’s column to an overview of the French director.
Truffaut’s films are autobiographical in either one of two senses: some deal specifically with phases of his life; all reveal his personal interests and obsessions. The appearance of 400 Blows marked Truffaut’s debut as a director and established him along with directors Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, and Claude Chabrol as one of the key figures in the French New Wave, a self-consciously idiosyncratic style of moviemaking that emphasized the director’s role. Back in the late 1950s the New Wave directors turned what should have been obstacles into assets; young independent moviemakers with no studios, they did on-location shooting using either nonprofessional performers or little-known actors, and filmed daily experiences. The results seem spontaneous and improvised. Of all the New Wave directors, Truffaut was through the years the most consistently popular.
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Truffaut made five more or less autobiographical films, starting with "400 Blows" when actor Jean-Pierre Leaud was 14 and ending 20 years later.