Criterion, $39.99, 85 mins, 1962
After co-writing Godard’s Breathless and making the 400 Blows, Truffaut adapted David Goodis’ pulpy novel Down There. Critics savaged the film and audiences were baffled. A despondent Truffaut believed them. Upon its re-release several years later, the world had finally caught up.
Less nakedly experimental than Godard, Truffaut’s feature about Charlie, the piano player on the lam played by crooner Charles Aznavour, has aged remarkably well. Repeated viewings of the film reveal new strands of meaning and stylistic pirouettes. Blessed with impeccable instincts and remarkable rigor, Truffaut wraps pulp conventions around New Wave trickery to create an irresistible confection.
Jam packed. In addition to a handsome booklet containing an essay and interview with Truffaut, there’s a scholarly informative if supercilious commentary track from his and hers historians, interview features with all the principals including Aznavour, cinematographer Raoul Coutard and Truffaut himself, revealing a touching humility. The kicker is a screen test with actress Marie Dubois, during which an unseen Truffaut coaxes her to curse him out.
The Nouvelle Vague with a human face. Truffaut’s mastery is such that he buries his genius under the conventions and anti-conventions of cinema.