Francois Truffaut on Film Criticism

Personally i found this highly interesting and thought it was worth posting.

Before beginning to make films, you wrote film criticism for the periodical Arts. How would you evaluate your former critical beliefs today?

In my articles in Arts, I would essentially repeat and popularize the critical positions taken in Cahiers. This happened especially at the start, for little by little my criticism became more personal, especially since I began to be interested in films that wouldn’t have interested Cahiers in the least. At the same time, I learned to submit myself to certain obligations. In Cahiers, telling the story of each film could easily be dispensed with. In a weekly journal, the story must be told, and for me, this was an extremely good exercise. Also, I think that in Cahiers, the critic feels the obligation to criticize each film on its own level, that is, to try and adapt the critical criteria to the film. For one film it may be necessary to speak abstractly of the directorial concep- tion, for another, to analyze the scenario itelf – each film demands its own particular treatment. In any case, the necessity to tell the story of a film every week was very good for me. Before that, I didn’t really see the films. I was so intoxicated with the idea of “cinema” that I could see nothing but a film’s movement and rhythm. In fact at the beginning I had such trouble summing up the stories that I had to consult a plot synopsis. This experience helped me to realize the faults of certain scenarios, certain gimmicks, certain easy ways of telling a story. I began to recognize anything in a film that had been copied from another film. For me this was an immensely worthwhile period – my experience in it corresponded with what must be the experience of a scriptwriter. It helped me to see things more clearly, and to become more aware of my own values, tastes, and proclivities. However I ended up becoming much too cutting in my criticism. During my last year with Arts, my criticism was no longer that of a film critic, but already that of a film di- rector. I would only get excited by those films related to what I myself wanted to do. I became too partisan, and, as a result, too vicious. Paradoxically, in my directing today, there remains something of the critic’s frame of mind. For example, when I’ve finished working on a scenario, I feel that I know, if not its faults, at least its dangers- especially in regard to what is trite and conventional in it. This knowledge guides me, gives me a direction to take against these dangers during the shooting. With each film I have done, the danger has been different. In the 400 Blows, the danger was becoming overly lyrical about childhood. In Shoot the Piano Player, it was creating too much hero-worship for a man who was always right. In Jules and Jim, it was portraying the woman as an exquisite shrew who could do no wrong. I was well aware of these dangers while shooting these films, and a large part of my work then consisted of trying to keep each film from succumbing to its inherent weakness. It so happens that my efforts in this direction caused all three of my films to end up being sadder films than planned, since seriousness, it seems to me, permits greater sublety of expression. Something that becomes more serious becomes more true. If one were to read, for example, the original scenario of the 400 Blows, one would discover the plot of a comedy. And in Shoot the Piano Player, where the danger was having the central character become too sympathetic, I tried so hard to point up his artist s egotism, his desire to isolate himself from the world, and his cowardice, that I made him finally rather hard and unattractive  – almost antipathetic. Doubtless this is one of the reasons for the film’s failure. The same thing happened with Jules and Jim: since I didn’t want the audience simply to adore the character played by Jeanne Moreau, I rendered her finally a bit too hard. Nevertheless, my improvisation on the set has always been in an effort to counteract the danger I sensed while reading the finished scenario. That’s what still remains of my formation as a critic.1.

1. François Truffaut and Paul Ronder, ‘François Truffaut: An Interview’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Autumn, 1963), pp. 3-13 pp. 4-5.

Published by

A.R. Duckworth

South Yorkshire England

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