I watched this film on a recommendation, since I’ve mostly sworn off Truffaut. I’d read it was one of his Hitchcock homages (and anything has to be better than Mississippi Mermaid) but I really wasn’t expecting so much “homage.” Besides the Bernard Herrmann score, which is identical to his more famous Hitchcock scores, mostly Vertigo, Truffaut fills the first act with enough Hitchcock references, I almost thought I was watching a Brian DePalma movie. The film starts fairly bad–there are no sympathetic characters, except a child, his mother, and his schoolteacher, none of whom are particularly pertinent–and Truffaut asks a lot for his first thirty minutes. He expects the audience to watch not because it’s interesting, but because it’s Jeanne Moreau. Now, while this sort of practice drives old Hollywood films and some Hong Kong films today, Truffaut doesn’t do the extra work to make Moreau interesting. She does eventually get interesting, but it’s an hour in, when the film’s already beginning its long, predictable wrap-up.
Moreau is going around killing sexist pigs (which actually has nothing to do with the plot–all the men in the film are sexist pigs) and part of the grabber is supposed to be the audience’s ignorance as to her motive. Unfortunately, once the motive is revealed and is innocuous and lame, the film loses a lot of potential energy. Worse (since it was only potential energy), after killing two of the men with detailed plans, the others go offhand (and in one case, off camera). Since all the male parts are bad guys and all the non-Moreau female parts are microscopic, there’s not a lot of interesting acting going on in the film. Michel Lonsdale, as a slimy politician, has a lot of fun and he gives the film’s best performance. Moreau is fine, but so distant, it’d be hard for her not to be fine. She’s not doing anything….
While I know Truffaut is the guy who brought Hitchcock back, I really don’t think he gets Hitchcock. I’ve never seen any of DePalma’s gratuitous Hitchcock films so I don’t know if he gets it either (I doubt it), but a lot of what works with Hitchcock is the characters. The extreme is probably Rear Window, when all of the characters are likable, but Vertigo is up there too–when the characters make you feel. Even when Hitchcock wasn’t getting it to work, wasn’t making people care about the characters (The Birds), he was at least trying. Janet Leigh and Martin Balsam give the two most important performances in Psycho, after all. Truffaut doesn’t get that aspect of the films. His characters are flat and he’s all about the set pieces throughout the film. The end is particularly bad, when Truffaut goes and shows he doesn’t think his audience has an iota of intellect.
I should have stuck to my boycott.
Directed by François Truffaut; written by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Raoul Coutard; edited by Claudine Bouché; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Marcel Berbert; released by Lopert Pictures.
Starring Jeanne Moreau (Julie), Jean-Claude Brialy (Corey), Michel Bouquet (Coral), Charles Denner (Fergus), Claude Rich (Bliss), Daniel Boulanger (Holmes) and Michel Lonsdale (Morane).