Updated On: November 06, 2023 by   Esraa Mahmoud   Esraa Mahmoud  

François Truffaut

François Truffaut: The French Icon of Cinema!

On 6 February 1932, one of the most important figures of French cinema was born, the icon of one of the most influential cinema movements, the Nouvelle Vague, that went on to leave an indelible mark on history…. François Truffaut. François Truffaut is one of the most beloved directors of all time—perhaps the most beloved […]

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On 6 February 1932, one of the most important figures of French cinema was born, the icon of one of the most influential cinema movements, the Nouvelle Vague, that went on to leave an indelible mark on history…. François Truffaut.

François Truffaut is one of the most beloved directors of all time—perhaps the most beloved of all. Truffaut was the brain behind some everlasting des chefs-d’oeuvre (masterpieces), starting with his first feature film, The 400 Blows, Jules et Jim, Fahrenheit 451, and of course, Day for Night, which earned him the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and many others.

François Truffaut is a director, screenwriter, producer, and actor who had a troubled childhood and found a haven in his passion for cinema, allowing him to escape reality. Truffaut’s work has always been different; it is a work where art and life mirror and intersect in search of a melancholic, passionate and poetic truth.

In this article, we take a closer look at the major stops in François Truffaut’s career.

Who is François Truffaut?

François Truffaut: The French Icon of Cinema!

The brilliant mind François Truffaut was born in Paris in 1932. Truffaut had such a hard childhood, something that highly impacted the filmmaker he later became. The filmmaker was born out of wedlock and was left to live with his grandmother while his mother married architect Roland Truffaut, who accepted François and gave him his surname.

Truffaut lived with his grandmother for many years, and she was the one who enthralled him with literature. After her death, he went on to live with his mother and her husband. However, he never found happiness as a child and films and cinema were his only gateway from the cruel reality.

During his childhood, Truffaut met Robert Lachenay; the two became close friends for life due to their strong passion for cinema. Truffaut went to several schools as a child until he was 14 years old and decided to leave school altogether. In 1948, he started up his film club, ‘Le Cercle Cinémane’, and that’s where he met André Bazin, a French critic, who became his protector.

The Rebellious Icon of the New Wave!

Bazin took care of young Truffaut, becoming some kind of a father figure to him. Thanks to Bazin, François Truffaut wrote several articles for Les Cahiers du Cinema magazine, which Bazin founded in 1951. It was because of this magazine that Truffaut joined the ranks of future filmmakers who surrounded Bazin, like Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, Jacques Demy, Éric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard.

François Truffaut went on to become a harsh critic of contemporary French cinema, preferring a more personal approach, both technically and narratively. His sharp tongue earned him the title of “The Gravedigger of French Cinema”. In 1954, he wrote the article ” Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Français”, in which he criticised the French cinema and the mainstream style that was followed by certain directors and screenwriters at that time. 

The article caused quite a stir, and it landed Truffaut a position in a more widely-read publication called “Arts-Lettres-Spectacles“. However, the controversial article later became one of the manifestos of the Nouvelle Vague movement.

In the meantime, and before he and his friends established another crucial cinema movement in cinema history, Truffaut also helped Bazin develop one of the most distinguished cinema movements in history, AKA the auteur theory.

Truffaut and his friends within the club were called “Hitchcocko-Hawksians” in reference to their favourite Hollywood directors, Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks. It was also this group of friends who later became the Nouvelle Vague movement filmmakers. The film movement was inspired by Italian Neo-realism, and it focused on giving the director of the film complete creative control and rebelling against the conventions of traditional filmmaking.

In the mid-1950s, Truffaut decided to venture into cinema as a director, where he worked on a few short films: Une Visite (1955), Les Mistons (1957) and Une Histoire d’eau (1958), which he co-directed with another French cinema icon Jean-Luc Godard.

Becoming the Great Truffaut!

Truffaut’s greatness as a director was clear from the start with his first feature film: Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) (1959). The film, partly based on his own story of a troubled child, was the hit of the year and established François Truffaut as one of the filmmakers to watch.

After bidding farewell to the 1950s with such success came the 1960s, which bore the hallmark of François Truffaut, the true leader of the New Wave movement. Freeing himself from the shackles of traditional pre-war cinema, he made films centred around characters with whom people could identify. In Tirez sur le Pianiste (1960), Jules et Jim (1962) and Antoine et Colette (1962), he focused on the problems and daily lives of ordinary people.

It is worth mentioning that around the same time in the early 1960s, Truffaut planned to work on book-length interviews with his beloved filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. He thought it could be done within weeks, but it actually took over four years, giving the world a gem, aka the book “Hitchcock/Truffaut“.

During his early years as a director, François Truffaut dabbled in every genre, from science fiction in Fahrenheit 451 (1966) to historical drama in L’Enfant Sauvage (1970).

Throughout his brilliant career, Truffaut surrounded himself with the best actors of the moment to play his heroes. These included Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo in La Sirène du Mississippi (1969), André Dussollier in Une Belle Fille Comme Moi (1972) and the young Isabelle Adjani in L’Histoire d’Adèle H. (1975).

During the 1970s, François Truffaut racked up box-office successes with L’Argent De Poche (1976), L’Homme Qui Aimait Les Femmes (1977) and the disconcerting La Chambre Verte (1978).

Truffaut ended his career on a high note with the box-office hit Le Dernier Métro (1980) and his last film, Vivement Dimanche! (1983), in which he paid tribute to his favourite director Alfred Hitchcock by borrowing a page from Hitchcock’s recurrent themes book.

Sadly, in the following year, Truffaut died on 21 October 1984 of a brain tumour leaving behind one of the most imposing legacies in cinema history.

Methodology

Truffaut’s passion for cinema made him rebel against everything that was held sacred at that time in the industry. According to Truffaut’s principles, the director is the sole author of the film; in other words, the subject, screenplay, dialogue and direction must be the fruit of the same creative hand.

The main elements of Truffaut’s style are the same as that of the Nouvelle Vague movement. Truffaut had an innovative use of filming and editing techniques, and he dealt with subjects that had previously been undervalued by the cinema of the time. He used films to narrate and analyse feelings.

His characters, adults and children, were the spokespersons for the author’s states of mind in the difficult experiences of life, narrated in a simple, direct and sincere style, which aimed to portray the emotions experienced. He believed that for a film to be successful, it must present a union of art and life; the film should bring something about life and something about cinema too. 

When it comes to technicality, Truffaut’s films manifested the elements of the Nouvelle Vague perfectly. There was a new approach to expression, like tracking shots (a type of shot where the camera follows the subject being filmed); there was room for improvision when it comes to the dialogue; the scenes change rapidly, unlike the old traditional ways, and of course, rebelling against the old basic 180-degree rule.

François Truffaut Most Memorable Films

Choosing a few gemstones from the many ones that had François Truffaut’s signature is almost impossible; the man did nothing less of spectacular! Coming up, we remember some of his most memorable masterpieces.

The 400 Blows (1959)

François Truffaut’s dazzling debut follows Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), who is a very complicated child. His parents neglected him, the school punished him too severely, and society regarded him with indifference. Be that as it may, after the strict teacher (Guy Decomble) punishes him once again, he decides to run away from school to the dark world of the city.

In this unforgettable directorial debut, François Truffaut presented himself to the world through his alter-ego Antoine Doinel, a child who is the victim of an antiquated system of discipline. Antoine would later appear in four more works until 1978, always played by the masterful Jean-Pierre Léaud.

The film brought Truffaut to international prominence, and it is one of the peaks of French and world cinema history. The 400 Blows is more of a poem in images about the loneliness of a boy who suffers in anguish from the indifference and injustice of adults who are incapable of listening to him and, above all, unable to grasp the richness and vitality of his restless spirit.

The 400 Blows was an absolute boom earning Truffaut the Best Director award from the Cannes Film Festival, besides receiving a nomination for the Palme d’Or and also an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay nomination. The film was a box-office smash hit as well, and to this day, it is celebrated as one of the greatest French films in history.

Jules e Jim (1962)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5IAYIUKTaI&t=1s

François Truffaut’s third feature film, Jules e Jim, is definitely one of the most memorable love triangles in the history of cinema. Based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, it is the story of three close friends (two men and a woman, the beautiful Jeanne Moreau) who cannot do without each other.

With this film, François Truffaut signed another remarkable milestone of the New Wave; the film records a reality in which feelings and gestures intersect against the backdrop of an imminent war. The film, which at times becomes an ode about the seasons of love, was born out of Truffaut’s own passion for Jeanne Moreau, his muse.

Upon its release, as usual for the movement’s films, Jules e Jim caused quite a scandal at the time because of the story it told. As the work narrates the ménage à trois that destabilises the relationships between the three protagonists, and at that time, this theme was still taboo. The film’s most memorable scene is undoubtedly that of the race to the flyover, filmed and cited as a symbol of the Nouvelle Vague itself.

Jules e Jim won many awards for Truffaut and Jeanne Moreau, and it was mentioned in “the 100 Best Films of World Cinema” list of Empire magazine in 2010. The film is one of François Truffaut’s most universally loved films.

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6VUExA5UKA

In a dystopian time and place, people are not allowed to read books, and all reading material must be burnt. In fact, the title of the film, Fahrenheit 451, is the exact temperature needed for the books’ papers to catch fire. The story follows Guy Montag (Oskar Werner), who is one of the best firemen who is responsible for burning the books. However, he has an eye-opening acquaintance with a teacher (Julie Christie), and soon his life is turned upside down!

Based on Ray Bradbury’s socio-dystopian novel of the same name, Fahrenheit 451 is the director’s first full-colour, English-language work. The British production company entrusted Truffaut with a large budget, and Universal distributed the film on the international market. The result was a very magnificent yet highly sociological and introspective film.

Fahrenheit 451 could be seen as an explicit critique of television and the emptiness of its content at that time. The film marks a real turning point in the artistic career of François Truffaut, who had so far been averse to the science fiction genre.

When the film was released, it received mixed reviews; nevertheless, it also received a nomination for the Venice Film Festival award, the Golden Lion, and Julie Christie was nominated for the BAFTA Best Actress Award for her role.

Effetto Notte (1973)

Truffaut’s love for cinema was unmatched, he always worked to show it, and in Effetto Notte (Day for Night), he presented a sweet love letter to his eternal love: cinema.

The film follows director Fernand (François Truffaut), who is struggling to finish his film after some scenes that were shot in a square got burnt, and now, he has to re-shoot them. He must do this while juggling the cast and crew’s personal and professional issues backstage.

The film’s name, which translates to La Nuit américaine, refers to an optical filter of the same name also used in the film. This filter serves to simulate that external scenes shot during the day are set at night.

In this masterpiece of technique and emotion, Truffaut recreated the magic behind the creation of a film, bringing various stories that are all extremely blended together. Effetto Notte shows, in the rawest way, the stress to which a director is subjected on the set, who must know the answer to all the questions.

In his declaration of love to the cinema, Truffaut masterfully directed himself, abounding with long takes and very long fixed shots. Regarded as one of the most favourite films ever made about filmmaking, Effetoo Notte was the recipient of many awards, including the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and the Best Film award at the BAFTAs for Best Film, among many others.

Le Dernier Métro (1980)

Many films have been made about WWII and the Nazi occupation in France, but none of them has the lavish style of François Truffaut’s Le Dernier Métro (Last Metro).

Set in Nazi-occupied Paris, people race daily to catch the Last Metro before the curfew. Hoping to take a break from the cruel reality and fight the cold winter, the citizens head to the theatre to stay warm and enjoy a show. In the theatre, the real story begins as we follow actress Marion Steiner who must keep the show running while doing her job and the job of her Jewish husband, the director, who is hiding from the Nazis.

While taking some liberties with the historical reconstruction, offering various details of everyday life in France under occupation, Truffaut vividly recreated the atmosphere of the time with songs, clothes and other objects.

In this film, Truffaut mindfully tackled the theme of discrimination, the Jewish origins of the husband, and the homosexuality of some of the cast members and how if the Nazis discovered them, they would eliminate them without mercy. Art thus becomes the only escape from tyranny and, again, from one’s private life.

Le Dernier Métro was a blockbuster, and it received numerous nominations, including the Best Foreign Language Film award at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards.

There is no denying how great François Truffaut was; the man loved cinema like no other. François Truffaut loved the profession so much that he fought hard to change the industry for the better, and the fight paid off! While his time on this earth was not long, his magical touch would certainly live forever, thanks to his timeless masterpieces.

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