Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (1960) (aka Shoot The Piano Player)
François Truffaut

“My old man used to say: When you hear someone at your door, think it might be an assassin. This way, if it’s a thief, you’ll be glad.”

Shoot The Piano PlayerI’m sure many would have watched Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) or Pulp Fiction (1994) and become fascinated with the style of film making – Long conversations about…er, just conversations, dark humour, petty issues magnified, weird characters. Though Tarantino was influenced much by the works of Godard, the effect of Truffaut’s Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (1960) on his style cannot be written off. Tirez Sur Le Pianiste primarily acts as a cross between the 50’s film-noir style and Hitchcock’s troubled characters.

The film starts off with Chico, a gangster being chased by two others. He runs for refuge to his brother Charlie, a piano player in a local bar. Charlie manages to save him while the focus of the film shifts towards Charlie’s lonesome and mundane life. Charlie, a timid and tongue-tied person as is revealed by many encounters with women, has never done what he really wanted to. He has unsuccessful attempts at getting close with a young stewardess Lena at the bar, who is attracted to Charlie. “The truth about Charlie” is revealed in a flashback where he is a famous pianist Eduardo Saroyan who is very much preoccupied with himself that he neglects his wife’s individuality. Things become sour when his wife reveals certain details. Charlie’s timidity becomes a reason for his wife’s demise. He decides to change for good and takes up a new name. A parallel track runs where a pair of gangsters are forcing Charlie to reveal the whereabouts of his brother (who apparently cheated these two guys out of a deal) and kidnap his brother Fido. Charlie is pulled into violence when he inadvertently kills his boss and runs to his brothers’ hideout. In a Vertigo-esque twist in the story, Charlie loses his love for the second time, almost in a similar fashion.

The film has a constant flow of humour that ranges from pure slapstick (The conversation about the Japanese metal scarf takes the cake) to black. Charles Aznavour‘s passive performance not only gives the timid portrayal required but also acts as a facade for his past. Truffaut’s follow-up to the spectacular Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) is fresh but mellow. It is nevertheless, a critical film in the French New Wave.

La Peau Douce (1964) (aka The Soft Skin)
François Truffaut

“Don’t talk so loud, people are staring.”

The Soft SkinLa Peau Douce (1964) is perhaps François Truffaut‘s least talked about good movie. Release alongside Jacques Demy‘s big favorite Les Parapluies De Cherbourg, La Peau Douce could well be called “eclipsed” by the former. From the outside the film could be written off as a mild drama, the characters in the films have much more impact than any melodrama. At first watch, it is but natural to think of Woody Allen‘s wonderful film Match Point – An illicit affair, the secrets revealed, tensions high for protecting egos. But neither is the film as verbose or as happening as Match Point.

The screenplay of La Peau Douce is not a usual screenplay one might see. There are no sudden twists, instigating incidents or unexpected moves through most part of the film. The film is paced slowly, with a lot of emphasis on the character development, especially the central character Pierre Lachenay. Pierre is a prude middle class person who is unsuccessful in sustaining relationships primarily because of his reservedness. Professionally an author, he is attracted to a young air-hostess Nicole who he meets during a lecture in Portugal. Jean Desailly is near perfection in the portrayal of a man who is crushed under his own principles. The affair continues all the way till Paris and Pierre still is secretive about the affair to Franka, his wife. Things take a sharp turn when Franka discovers the affair. There is an expected rift in relationships divorce is decided upon. Meanwhile, Nicole is also unable to sustain the relationship and quits.

The climactic quarter hour is where the film actually changes tone and feels like a Hitchcockian suspense tale. Pierre decides to apologise to Franka, only to find that she is unavailable in house. The climax, which I am not going to give away, is much debated upon by his fans. This tale of people caught within the formalities of love and the clockwork of the world was nominated for the Palm D’or at Cannes in 1964