Wednesday, March 09, 2016

"The Soft Skin": Early Truffaut black-and-white romance builds up to a bang at the end

The Soft Skin” (“La peau douce”), is a black-and-white progressive romantic mystery film by Francois Truffaut, from 1964.  It somewhat reminds one of Hitchcock, but is more character-driven and less situation-dependent.  It’s loosely based on a story by Jean-Louis Richard.
The story depicts a popular publisher, author and lecturer, married with a stable family, falling for another woman, gradually inspiring the jealousy of his wife who will blow him away with a shotgun in a Paris restaurant in the movie’s final scene.  The movie is witty and funny, playing on the heterosexual social norms of the early 60s, and the viewer enjoys the trip to ultimate catastrophe.

The publisher is Pierre Lachenay (Jean DeSailly), and as the movie opens he rushes to the airport for a flight to Lisbon, to lecture.  He talks the airline into lowering the stairs for him so he can get on the plane.  This would never be allowed today.  (I flew to Amsterdam from the US in 1999 and 2001, and both times flew to other cities immediately, using similar steps.)  The stewardess is Nicole (Francoise Dorleac).  There’s a lot of interesting hanky panky in the hotel immediately (with phone and telegraph technology the way it was in the 60s). And there’s interesting subject matter in the conversations..  Pierre talks about Balzac, how the 19th century writer bought his own publishing company and printer to have control of his own message (sounds like the forerunner of today’s controversies with self-published books).  A succeeding telegram is odd: It reads “Je vous aime” when the familiar “tu” would sound right (“Je t’aime”).  

The movie runs around France after he returns (including Reims) but eventually his middle-aged wife Franca (Nelly Benedetti) becomes more angered and the immature, soft-skinned (but nubile) competition.    

The witty music score by Georges Delerue helps maintain a sense of suspense and building menace. As for the title of the film, it's supposed to apply to "women", right?  Not so much any more. 
The DVD from the Criterion Collection and Janus Films includes a 10-minute short, “The Complexity of Influence” (2015), narrated by Kent Jones (director of “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, Dec. 16), explaining how Truffaut was influenced by everyone and was at one time someone of a bad boy.  

There follows a 30-minute short “Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock”, 1999, by Robert Fischer, which is similar to the Jones feature reviewed before.  The short talks about the difference between character and situational screenwriting, and then explains a lot of Hitchcock’s techniques particularly in “The Birds” (1963), where the idea is continuity of action (even from the viewpoint of one of the birds).  Finally, there is a “making of” short with some old interviews of Truffaut himself. 

Picture: construction tunnel in Washington DC (my shot) but very Truffaut-like. The director makes a lot of ordinary indoor and street scenes, without making the viewer "travel" to other places much, 

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