7. La Mariée Etait en Noir (The Bride Wore Black) (1968)
Arguably Truffaut’s most shocking film, The Bride Wore Black is an intense revenge thriller based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich. Jeanne Moreau plays a grief-stricken widow whose husband was murdered shortly after their wedding ceremony, literally minutes after on the steps of the church. She begins as a tortured, hurting woman mourning the loss of her husband, but becomes a vengeful, cold-blooded murderer mercilessly killing the men she believes took her husband’s life.
The Bride Wore Black is packed with so much action and a perfectly-complementing 60’s adventure score that you may expect to see Steve McQueen make a cameo (he doesn’t, unfortunately). Gruesome, shocking and at times just bizarre, this is quite a large jump from the usual dramas Truffaut had directed up to this point. If anything, this film speaks to his versatility as a director and his mastery over more than one genre. It’s remarkable that the same mind who gave us the enthralling dramatic masterpiece The 400 Blows could create such a high-impact action film such as this.
Truffaut, however, would hardly claim this to be worth a watch. He admitted to being disappointed with how the film turned out and even claimed it to be his worst work by far. However, it’s certainly worth a watch for some fun 60’s adventure and the rarity of seeing a female serial killer on screen!
8. Le Dernier Métro (The Last Metro) (1980)
The Last Metro was made towards the end of Truffaut’s impressive career, and was one of his most commercially successful films. Drawing on the past oppression of his country, the film focuses on Paris during the Nazi Occupation. The story focuses on Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve), a stage actress married to the owner of the theater, a Jewish man who has escaped the city and the Gestapo.
Marion, a gentile, is left to assume all responsibilities of the theater, not only as its main actress, but also as proprietor. Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu) joins the theater company and acts alongside Marion in their latest production. The two share a highly professional but cold relationship. It isn’t until they learn of the effect the war is having on each other that they really learn to understand one another.
The Last Metro was widely praised as a tense and poignant look into the lives of the many people scarred in occupied Paris, garnering numerous award nominations and wins. It swept the French Cesar Awards and was nominated (and robbed) of the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar. Another one of Truffaut’s greatest period pieces, The Last Metro remains an artistic triumph of Holocaust film.
9. Baisers Volés (Stolen Kisses) (1968)
Once again focusing on the character of Antoine Doniel from The 400 Blows, Truffaut gives us a look into what happened in the troubled boy’s life in spite of a rather ambiguous ending to the first film we saw him in. You may be hoping to hear of great personal and financial growth in Antoine’s (Jean-Pierre Leaud once again) life, but that’s far from the case. In the beginning of the film, we learn Antoine has been expelled from the French Army for lacking obedience, so he returns to Paris to begin a job as a hotel clerk and continue a relationship with his girlfriend, Christine (Claude Jade).
While Antoine seems to be optimistic about his return home, he quickly falls back into his rebellious ways which prevent him from keeping a steady job. He is every bit as lost as when we first saw him, leading us to believe his time spent in juvenile detention was just a waste of money and effort. The one bright spot in his life is his relationship with Christine, though it remains rocky throughout the story. However, the absence of Antoine’s demanding, difficult mother seems to give Antoine a sense of freedom. Christine truly does love him, where his mother admitted that he “gets on her nerves” in The 400 Blows. There is a definite emotional connection between the young couple, there wasn’t much love between Antoine and his mother.
The story ends as ambiguously as the first, but with a different tone. It’s a must see to get a glimpse into one of Truffaut’s favorite characters and how his perception of Antoine changed over the years since audiences first saw him.
10. Domicile Conjugal (Bed and Board) (1970)
Yet another film installment in the life of Antoine Doniel, Domicile Conjugal picks up where Baisers Voles left us. Antoine and Christine are now married, and Christine is expecting their first child. Antoine fears this substantial life change and continues to rebel against his responsibilities to his family.
What’s most striking about this chapter in Antoine’s life, is how much more difficult it is to feel sympathy for him. He is no longer a poor lost child sleeping in the streets of Paris and being pushed around by his mother and teachers, he’s a married man and soon to be father. His rebellious antics continue to lead him astray from his domestic responsibilities, and even drive him into the arms of another woman. Granted, he didn’t have the best example of a healthy marriage with his own parents, it’s still absolutely frustrating to see him continually walk away from any form of rules or duties. Truffaut masterfully develops Antoine over this series, in a total of five films, from troubled youth to reckless adult.
11. L’Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child) (1970)
Based on the true story of a child who lived in the wild until around the age of twelve, and a sympathetic doctor’s attempts to socialize him, L’Enfant Sauvage is another poignant period piece by Truffaut. Truffaut felt such a strong connection with this story that he casted himself in the role of Dr. Jean Marc Gaspard Itard. This has been said among film critics to possibly be Truffaut’s best performance.
While the film portrays a beautiful story of love for the socially outcast, it’s not an easy one to watch. Knowing this is based on a true story, that there have been innocent children abandoned and grown up without any human contact or kindness is a tragic reality. However, Truffaut so beautifully shows us the power of human understanding with this film. In every society, there is the “other”. Those who have effortlessly been accepted by their culture may not understand or even acknowledge the presence of that individual or ostracized group, but Truffaut contends it is the responsibility of the socially privileged to reach out and accept whoever is past the periphery of culturally accepted norms and customs.
If we were simply to extend a welcoming hand to one another, there would be no “other”. There would peace and unity. Don’t be surprised if, after seeing The Wild Child, you have an uncontrollable urge to cry and read every word Foucault ever wrote.
12. La Peau Douce (The Soft Skin) (1964)
Not one of Truffaut’s more successful films, La Peau Douce is a dark story of lust, deception and selfishness. The story focuses on Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly), a famed writer who meets Nicole (Françoise Dorléac), a young flight attendant on a trip to Lisbon. The two begin a passionate love affair which is eventually complicated by Pierre’s marriage and family. His desire for stability at home and secret excitement without contemplation of inevitable consequences brings about great distress and strain in both of his relationships.
Perhaps it was the frank display of infidelity that made this film a critical bomb. Technically speaking, it is a well-directed and acted work with great character development and conflict. Infidelity is not glamorized by any means in this story, quite the opposite. It is a story of a man blinded by his own selfishness and animalistic desires. Pierre is first shown enjoying his new relationship and excited by the secrecy, but eventually his conscience catches up to him and he sees the destruction his actions have caused.
Truffaut himself enjoyed the film and was quite proud of the finished product, even though he faced great hounding from critics. It’s nice to think the film would have fared betteramong today’s critics, who have seen the topic of infidelity dealt with in much more gratuitous detail in the past few decades. Plus, its shocking ending certainly does not portray adultery as anything but disastrous.
Author Bio: Sarah McFarlane studies English and Philosophy at The University of North Texas. She has been studying film for most of her life, loves reading Confessional Poetry and raising her cat, Thorwald.