"Film lovers are sick people"
François Truffaut was one of the most prominent movie buffs of the last century. He entered the world of cinema as a critic in the very influential Cahiers du Cinéma, and with his fellow cinéphiles friends, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and others, changed the way the art form was perceived ; first by writing about it, then by making revolutionary movies.
To understand Truffaut's life one should begin by watching the autobiographical 400 Blows. It was his first feature, and also the first of a series of film featuring Jean-Pierre Léaud in the role of Antoine Doinel, living Truffaut's life on the screen - he said he always prefered the reflection of life to life itself. Born in Paris, France, in 1932, Truffaut grew up in a middle-class family, but the husband of his mother was not is father, a secret that probably had an influence into turning him into a small-time criminal, despite his fondness for cinema, which had started when he saw Abel Gance's Lost Paradise at the age of eight.
André Bazin had noticed his love for the movies, and took him out of the jail Truffaut got in by deserting the army. The director of the Cahiers du Cinéma then hired him as a critic there, in 1953 ; Truffaut would demolish in his articles the movies then successful in France, known as Qualité Française, which he said were too formulaic, relied too much on the writing and not enough on the directing, and thus lacked much of the interest of the ealier French films of the Réalisme Poétique era, directed by the humanist Jean Renoir or by Marcel Carné, on scripts written by the poet Jacques Prévert.
On the other hand he would praise Hollywood-made genre movies, such as John Ford westerns, Film noir, and most importantly Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers. He laid the critical groundwork of the auteur theory, considering that films were the result of the work of one man, the director, who imposed his mark of the movie, rather than a more collective artifact, product of a whole studio. It is partly because of him that Hitchcock and Ford were recognized as more than just part of the huge Hollywood film-making factory : as artists. He would regularly interview Hitchcock, and out of these meetings make a great book, Hitchcock/Truffaut ; reading it certainly enhances one's understanding of the art of making films.
Eventually however, talking about it was not enough, and he turned to make movies rather than just see them. By 1959 he had written the script of Breathless for Jean-Luc Godard ; he had shot a couple of shorts, Une Visite, Mischief Makers and A Story of Water. 400 Blows was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959 and won the Grand Prize (actually the second-best prize), and the movie was a huge success both with the critics and the public. The movie was one of the starting points of the Nouvelle Vague, along with Breathless and Alain Resnais' Hiroshima my Love ; again the French cinema was young, daring, creative.
For most of his career his movies would show one of three influences : Jean Renoir's humanism, his taste for the American thriller, and his own life.
His life he told in the films that starred Jean-Pierre Léaud, his alter ego : Stolen Kisses, where Doisnel hesitates between two women while an unsettled young man ; Bed and Board where he has finally got married ; and finally Love on the Run where he has divorced. Seeing the hero's life going on through many films is a interesting experience ; enhanced by the fact that Truffaut's audience was getting older at the same pace, this series had a lasting effect on a whole generation.
The highmark of his "poetic" movies however is also his best movie, Jules and Jim, the story of a Franco-German love triangle, starring an enigmatic Jeanne Moreau. It is also a period film, and he would make a few of those in his career, with The Wild Child where he tells the story of the (attempts of) education of a youth found in the forest, having spent his life there without human contact, The Last Metro, in which a theater troup tries to work in the Nazi-occupied Paris, or The Story of Adele H, with a very great Isabelle Adjani playing a daughter of Victor Hugo.
Finally, his fondness for B movies show in films like Shoot the Piano Player, Mississioi Mermaid, or Farenheit 451, which show clearly the American roots of his cinema. Another film stands out, Day for Night, where he shows a film crew trying to shoot a movie, and the huge challenge it faces, like a depressive and spoiled star, played by Léaud, yet the director, played by Truffaut himself, is still able to think about making his movie "interesting" ; this hommage to all his coworkers, that made his carreer possible, is also a reminder that Truffaut was also an actor. He often had cameos in his own films, and appeared in Encouter of the third kind to see what it was like to be directed by another person, his fan Steven Spielberg in this case, who said about the experience, "Directing a movie with Truffaut on the set is like having Renoir around when you're still painting by numbers".
François Truffaut died of a head tumor in 1984. Yet his influence in cinema, not only in how films are made, but also in how we see them, and appreciate the art as a whole, still lives on.
Complete Filmography as a writer and director :