The Last Metro (1980)
Directed by François Truffaut
Truffaut’s timeless political, emotional, and technical virtuosity is on full display in The Last Metro, which dominated the 1981 César Awards, as he dissects German-occupied France’s submerged agony with tight pans and quick cuts that reveal a world dense with duplicitous and furtive activity. Theater owner and actress Marion Steiner—a superbly fluid Catherine Deneuve, segueing between native poise and incongruous distraction—is whipsawed by prudence and patriotism. She must hide her fugitive Jewish husband Lucas while not only staying open—Parisians took refuge in theaters, trundling home on the last subway before curfew—but also resisting abject capitulation to craven collaborationist censorship. This she accomplishes by staging a cryptically anti-Nazi play, Disappearance, that Lucas clandestinely directs to keep from going stir-crazy. Complicating Marion’s balancing act is saturnine leading man Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu, very intense), whom she finds recklessly militant—and disconcertingly attractive. French nationalism, pride, culture, and stamina triumph, as indeed they did, and duress, endearingly, excuses straying. A beautifully crafted film. Jonathan Stevenson (May 22-25, 11am at IFC Center’s Deneuve matinee series)
In case you missed it, Welcome to New York, one of Abel Ferrara’s two 2014 productions (the other being Pasolini), opens March 27 from US distributor IFC Films on VOD and in select cities though not, apparently, curiously, in New York, where most movies open and where its infamous action is set. According to reports on Flavorwire and elsewhere, the IFC Center canceled its run due to threats of violence from or inspired by Ferrara. (His reply: “Those comments were metaphorical. I am an artist and a Buddhist so firebombing theaters is not on my agenda.”) They’d planned to show the same R-rated version edited by worldwide distributor Wild Bunch and disowned by Ferrara that will be available on VOD. Anthology Film Archives reportedly declined an offer to show the director’s uncut version, which premiered at Cannes and is available on Blu-ray in Europe (and online, where Ferrara encourages you to steal it).
Wild Bunch’s replayed trump card is that Ferrara signed a contract guaranteeing an R-rated version, and since he has refused to provide one (“I don’t make R-rated movies,” he says), Wild Bunch feel they were within their rights to slice as they pleased. The fury of Ferrara’s response—comparing the players from IFC and Wild Bunch to Charlie Hebdo shooter-esque assassins of freedom—has to do with the extremity (17 minutes) and unapproved manner of the edits, which, in his view, suggest that a chambermaid’s account of a hotel rape, shown in flashback during a police interrogation, might be fabricated. While Ferrara, never afraid to self-mythologize and manufacture dust-ups, should always be taken with a grain of salt (remember his Werner Herzog-Bad Lieutenant pseudo-dispute?), he has a case, and a comparison of the two versions shows that Wild Bunch went beyond mere trimming of naughty bits to subtle manipulation of authorial intent and political content, if falling short of Ferrara’s claim that their version “condones rape” (it does not).