If Francois Truffaut, like his hero Jean Vigo, had died at the age of 29 after directing just three films, his reputation as one of cinema’s great directors would still be assured. Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows), Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) and Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim) exemplified the qualities that made the French New Wave so unique and special and have come to be recognised as classics, loved and cherished by generations of moviegoers around the world. While subsequently Truffaut’s output became more uneven and less assured, he produced a number of lesser-known gems and two or three masterpieces. All his films are shot through with humour, exuberance, poignancy, and an overriding love of cinema. Here we list our choice of his greatest works.
(Finally Sunday, 1983)
Truffaut’s final film is a heartfelt homage to the movies he grew up with and loved.
Fanny Ardent plays the secretary of a businessman (Jean-Louis Trintignant) wrongfully accused of murder who sets out to investigate the case herself. A heady and entertaining concoction of suspense thriller, film noir and screwball comedy
La Chambre verte
(The Green Room, 1978)
A poetic, haunting tale of a man whose self-destructive obsession with the dead compels him to build an altar to honor them. Truffaut stars in the lead role of Julien Davenne
opposite Nathalie Baye as Cecilia, the younger woman who falls in love with him. Based on a short story by Henry James, The Green Room is amongst the director's most personal and moving works.
Le Peau douce
(The Soft Skin, 1964)
Reflecting both Truffaut’s desire to tell a “truly modern love story that takes place in planes, elevators, and has all the harassments of modern life,” and the growing influence of Alfred Hitchcock on his work, this story of an academic who has a secret affair with an air hostess jangles the nerves while offering a perceptive and ultimately shocking study of infidelity.
Set at the turn of the century, an aspiring young French writer spends a holiday on the Welsh coast with two English sisters, beginning a love triangle that consumes the threesome for the next twenty years. A visually beautiful evocation of a lost era; both tender and tragic.
Based on the true story of an 18th century behavioural scientist’s efforts to turn a feral boy into a civilized member of the human race, L’Enfant sauvage is both deeply moving and thought- provoking. Elegantly, artfully filmed by Nestor Almendros in black and white with outstanding performances from Jeanne-Pierre Cargol as the boy and Truffaut as his teacher.
Tirez sur le pianiste
(Shoot the Piano Player, 1960)
Comedy and tragedy go hand in hand in Truffaut’s eloquent and playful homage to film noir. Charles Aznavour is Charlie, the washed up pianist, who is forced to face up to the past he has tried to forget when one night his gangster brother comes asking for his help. This is perhaps the most quintessentially New Wave of all Truffaut’s films, as revolutionary and original as Godard’s Breathless and equally influential on later film-makers.
Jean-Pierre Leaud returns in this third installment in the Antoine Doinel series. Dishonourably discharged from the army, Antoine returns to Paris where he takes on a series of jobs, including a failed stint as a hotel clerk and a turn working as a private detective, while falling in and out of love with several different women. A film of great charm, which moves fluidly from slapstick comedy to romantic lyricism to dramatic confrontation.
In what is probably the greatest film ever made about the crazy business of making movies, Truffaut plays Ferrand, a director who must deal with the upsets, disasters, frustrations and triumphs that go on behind the scenes of Je vous presente Pamela, the film being made within the film. Touching, funny and revealing, it won BAFTA awards for Best Film and Best Director and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Truffaut's first feature is one of the defining films of the Nouvelle Vague. Based substantially on events from his own childhood, it marked his transition from controversial critic to world famous film director. In his portrayal of a troubled adolescent looking for an escape route from an unhappy life, Truffaut made the kind of realistic and personal film he had been calling for others to make.
Truffaut’s enduring masterpiece is a captivating story of love and friendship between Jules, Jim and the free-spirited Catherine over the course of twenty-five years. A stylistically thrilling work of cinema, brimming with charm and full of innovative storytelling techniques that runs the full gamut of emotions from joie de vivre to tragedy.