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The Last Metro  
Francois Truffaut
1980 || 131 mins

Set during the German occupation of Paris during the Second World War, the story revolves around Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve), who is left to manage the Theatre Montmartre when her Jewish husband Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) is obliged to flee, although we later discover that he is in fact hiding out in the basement of the theatre, protected by his wife.  A new play, Disappearance, in which Marion stars alongside a dashing young actor, Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu), provides a chance of financial salvation for the theatre. However Bernard’s connections to the resistance and his growing passion for Marion, threatens to bring disaster to the company.

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last metro

Francois Truffaut decided to make Le Dernier Métro (The Last Metro), the story of a theatre company in German Occupied Paris, in 1979. It was to form the second part of a trilogy on the performing arts including La Nuit américaine (Day for Night, 1973) and the third part set in a music hall, L’Agence Magique, which was written but remained unfilmed at the time of Truffaut’s death.

Before writing the screenplay Truffaut and Suzanne Schiffman, his most faithful collaborator, ploughed through historical archives and poured over history books, gathering material from actors and managers memoirs. They also drew on their own memories, as well as family anecdotes, to accurately portray a time when arrests were common, Jews were deported in massive numbers, and the citizens of Paris had to abide by strict rationing and a midnight curfew, which meant they couldn’t afford to miss the last metro.

But it was not Truffaut’s intention to make a political film. What interested him most, as always, were human emotions and the shifting relationships between characters. Much therefore rested on the presence and performances of the lead actors. In choosing Catherine Deneuve to play Marion, who he had worked with 10 years before on Mississippi Mermaid (1969), Truffaut commented: “I love the way she projects two facets: a visible persona and a subterranean one. She seems to suggest her secret inner life is at least as significant as the appearance she gives.” As for Depardieu, he had long been an admirer and now, in the role of Bernard, an actor rescued from the Grand Guignol to star in Disappearance, he had the perfect part.

Having himself lived through the occupation, Truffaut considered that any film set in Paris during the war must take place almost entirely indoors and at night. That the atmosphere of the time should be captured through images of darkness, of cloistered frustration and insecurity. In the event, Le Dernier Metro is perhaps the most traditional and classical-looking film of his career. A film indeed that could be described as being in the “tradition of quality” which Truffaut has attacked as a critic many years before.

The Last Metro went into production on the 28th January 1980 in an abandoned factory in the suburbs. Truffaut had a great deal of trouble raising the necessary funds. Several distributors turned the screenplay down, objecting to the historical setting. Despite their reservations, the film was a smash hit. More than one million people saw it in Paris alone. Six months later the film won 10 Césars including Best Film and Best Director for Truffaut.

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