Thursday, August 12, 2010
#462: The Last Metro
It's kind of a shame that Truffaut was such an ambitious, serious-minded director. He could have been a great comedian. Even in a movie like this one, in which nearly every scene finds the specter of Nazi occupation hovering over it, the moments that shine through are ones of pure comedy, lighthearted jokes that would be at home in any straight comedy. Truffaut only made a few true comedies in his career, including the third installment in the Antoine Doinel series, Stolen Kisses, but many of his films use comedy in inventive ways (perhaps the most heralded and clever comes in Shoot the Piano Player when a character swears he is telling the truth or his mother will drop dead - and Truffaut jump cuts to an old woman falling to the ground). This is not to say Truffaut didn't play to his only strength, as he had many more strengths to concern himself with. Certainly a career that includes Jules and Jim is not wasted. But seeing him flex this muscle over the course of a whole career would have been not just satisfying, but potentially as revolutionary as his 400 Blows was for cinema.
This observation came to me while watching The Last Metro, but it is not particularly relevant to the film. Like Day for Night, The Last Metro is about a group of artists putting on a production, the former in cinema, the latter on stage, though this time there is the added conflict of the Nazi occupation. Truffaut uses the moment to tell the story mainly of one compelling female character, played Catherine Deneuve. It was pure coincidence that I watched two Deneuve performances back to back - I hadn't been aware she was in A Christmas Tale until I began watching it - but seeing them one after another and watching her age thirty years in reverse proves that her beauty and talent are both timeless. Deneuve is a great actress and a great movie star, and here she carries an entire film for more than two hours. The Last Metro isn't one of Truffaut's best, but it has flashes of his playful side as well as his more critic-minded nature. The whole film feels so much like a play that by the the time the epilogue's trick is revealed you have to wonder whether the whole film wasn't a play being performed in that theater, ready to be wrapped up just before the last train comes and takes everyone home.