François Roland Truffaut (French IPA: [tʀyˈfo]) (February 6, 1932 – October 21, 1984) was one of the founders of the French "New Wave" in filmmaking, and remains an icon of the French film industry. He began as a film critic and reviewer, writing for the French film journal Les Cahiers du cinéma and other French publications, and was noted for scathing and highly opinionated articles attacking many of the most prominent French directors, screenwriters, and critics of French cinema, and for preferring many American directors and their films. He went on to set up his own film company and make his own films, and, in a film career lasting just over a quarter of a century, he fulfilled the functions of screenwriter, director, producer or actor in over twenty-five films. Many of his films won international acclaim, and Truffaut is one of the hundred or so most important and influential figures in the history of world cinema.
Truffaut himself was something of an autodidact and a complex, enigmatic, and secretive person, who was nevertheless extremely skilled in getting his way and in getting publicity and attention from others. He was extremely well read in the topics he cared about.
Truffaut was a "secret child," born out-of-wedlock in Paris to Janine de Monferrand, a 19-year-old girl at the time. Twenty months after his birth and two weeks before marrying Janine, Roland Truffaut adopted the young François and gave him his name. The maternal grandparents, Jean and Geneviève de Monferrand, Catholics and of minor nobility, had known of their daughter's pregnancy only for the last three months, and she was sent away to a different neighborhood to have the baby. François was raised by his mother and his adoptive father, both of whom were devout Roman Catholics. He did not know until his adolescence that Roland was not his real father, and he never met his biological father, who was a Jewish dentist.
Truffaut had an unhappy and emotionally neglected childhood, and turned to a life of delinquency, truancy from school (with frequent expulsion), and petty crime. He ended up in reform school, but was rescued in his teenage years by discovering cinema and becoming a devotee; he later said, "I feel it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that cinema saved my life." He also loved books, and had a special affection for Balzac. During his teenage years he also established a film club, with his best friend Robert Lachenay. Through his film enthusiasm he came to know the writer and critic André Bazin, who became his elective father; Bazin would go on to found the influential French film journal Les Cahiers du cinéma. By the age of 14, Truffaut's crusade had already taken shape: he would defend auteur films, as he later called them.
In October 1950, Truffaut enlisted in the French army and at the end of the year went to join the French occupation troops in Germany. But in just a few days he began to regret his enlistment, and in 1951, when he was about to be sent to Saigon, he became a deserter. He ended up sick with syphilis, and in military prison. Only the extraordinary efforts of Bazin and others resulted in his eventually being dishonorably discharged, after more time in military prison. His de-enlistment from the army is recounted in his later film Stolen Kisses.
Truffaut came to filmmaking only after an early career as one of the most outspoken film critics in France, writing for the French magazine Elle. for Bazin's Cahiers du cinéma (he became an editor of the review in 1953), and for other publications. Cahiers at this time had a group of "young Turks": Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Charles Bitsch and sometimes others. These younger writers were intensely critical of post-war French cinema; they saw it as overtly literary. Instead, they praised American directors such as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray, and Howard Hawks, then often dismissed as mere genre film makers. Truffaut also especially honored Jean Renoir—whose films Truffaut's most resemble—and Robert Bresson. Truffaut also sent letters to Preston Sturges, Luis Buňuel, Max Ophuls, Abel Gance, Roberto Rossellini, Fritz Lang, and Nicholas Ray, saying, "I admire you; I would like to meet you; I would like to write about you and give you exposure in the press…." 
Truffaut was especially noted for an article in Cahiers entitled "A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema," published in January 1954, attacking the received tradition in French film. This article also laid the foundation for Truffaut's politique des auteurs, or what came to be known as the auteur theory; this view—now more or less universally accepted by film critics and taught to film students—holds that the director is the "author" of the film. Truffaut believed that for a director one admires all of that director's films must be considered and defended. This article provoked a storm of praise and counterattack, and was the central point of discussion in French film circles for more than a year. It also changed Truffaut's life. Truffaut became the most prolific and sought after film critic in France and the leader of the Cahiers critics, deciding who got to write what. In addition, he wrote hundreds of articles himself—often using a pseudonym so that he wouldn't seem to be writing everything—for Cahiers and other journals in the years from 1953 to 1985 and following.
Truffaut's criticism was not necessarily fair or just, but it was provocative. As De Baecque and Toubiana put it:
Truffaut, then, had sired a new form of film criticism—frank, direct, violent, sectarian, founded in value judgments, always detailed but often provocative and scathing, with no qualms about being preemptory and unfair. This new breed of criticism preached by the Young Turks came to dominate Cahiers du cinéma and Arts [another journal for which Truffaut wrote], but throughout critical circles at the time, there was great shock. 
In addition to that, Truffaut's own attitude was more politically and socially right wing and he wrote for publications that were more rightist in tone and attitude, whereas the dominant intellectual culture in Paris and France at the time—just a decade after the end of World War II—was leftist and Communist.
As a result of the severity of his critiques, Truffaut was refused a press pass to the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, but he attended anyway. The next year he would take Cannes by storm with his first feature film.
At the Venice Film Festival in 1956 Truffaut met Madeleine Morgenstern, daughter of the important film distributor Ignace Morgenstern. Ignace Morgensterns was a Hungarian Jew who had fled Hungary in 1921 in the aftermath of a bloody counterrevolution. Over the next months Truffaut and Madeleine became intimate, and they were married on October 29, 1957, at the City Hall in Paris; Rosellini was one of the witnesses. François and Madeleine would go on to have two children, Laura (b. January 22, 1959) and Eva (b. June 29, 1961).
More important for Truffaut's career, Ignace Morgenstern helped to get Truffaut's film career off the ground by financing the making of his first film, the short Les Mistons (1958), and also to set up Truffaut's film company, Les Films du Carrosse (named for Renoir's film Le Carrosse d'or), which would be Truffaut's film production headquarters until his death. (Truffaut's enemies and critics would for many years accuse him of marrying Madeline only to advance his career by getting access to her father's money and power in the film industry. They would also later on accuse him of becoming a "sell out" to bourgeois values and to being a center of power in the French film industry; he became, they claimed, a person of the kind they had scorned when they were writing scathing criticism for Cahiers du cinéma.)
Les Mistons was only a short, but it captured themes and sensibilities that would inform all of Truffaut's subsequent movies, displaying a love for film so passionate and sensual that it could almost be called erotic. In evidence was an intense interest in male-female relationships, showing the joys and pains, the pleasures and terrors, the highs and lows of erotic love, as well as a trademark fascination with and affinity for children, and a special felicity in directing them in film. Later on Stephen Spielberg would cast Truffaut as the scientist in Close Encounters of the Third Kind; "I needed a man who would have the soul of a child," Spielberg said, "someone kindly, warm, who could completely accept the extraordinary, the irrational." 
Morgenstern then financed Truffaut's first full length feature, The 400 Blows, (1959) probably the greatest and most consequential first feature by a new director after Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. It became a triumph at the Cannes Film Festival, and the opening film of what came to be called the French New Wave.
The extent to which The 400 Blows is autobiographical has been in dispute; Truffaut reported at the time the film opened that it is; but under bitter assault from his adoptive father and his mother, he denied that it showed their lives or their treatment of him. In any case, Truffaut had a difficult relationship with his mother and stepfather, and did not tell them of his marriage until the last minute.
The 400 Blows featured the young boy Jean-Pierre Léaud, known as Antoine Doinel in the film, in the central role, and would be the first in a series of autobiographical or semi-autobiographical films by Truffaut featuring Antoine Doinel/Léaud as his alter ego. The others were Antoine and Colette (a short film in the anthology Love at Twenty) (1962),Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979). Leaud also appeared as an actor in Truffaut's Two English Girls (1971), and La Nuit américaine, known in the United States as Day for Night (1973). Day for Night is a film about making a film, one of the two best ever made on that subject (the other is Federico Fellini's 8 1/2); it won the American Academy Award as Best Foreign Film.
Léaud was himself something of a miscreant and rebel and truant, and he captured perfectly the attitude and behavior of the young Truffaut, and perhaps the mature Truffaut as well. One of the characters in Love on the Run remarks that Antoine Doinel has always been on the run, never settled; that was as true of Truffaut himself as it was of Antoine Doinel. The Man Who Loved Women is also a film with heavy autobiographical influences, as is The Green Room. Later on in life Léaud would become a difficult actor with whom other actors did not like to work.
Truffaut was an inveterate womanizer both before and after his marriage; he was known to frequent prostitutes and to have many affairs, including with most of his leading ladies. Among them were Claude Jade (Stolen Kisses and others); Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim); Françoise Dorléac (older sister of Catherine Deneuve, she was the leading lady in The Soft Skin–Truffaut was devastated when she was killed in a fiery automobile crash just as the film was being completed); Julie Christie (Fahrenheit 451); Catherine Deneuve (Mississippi Mermaid and The Last Metro); and Fanny Ardant (The Woman Next Door and Confidentially Yours).
Truffaut and Madeleine Morgenstern divorced in 1965, largely because of his womanizing. Later in life they became companions again, and she attended to him in the last months of his life; in his will he put her in charge of the future distribution of his films. In fact, Truffaut tended to keep good relations and ongoing friendship with many of his former lovers and mistresses.
In 1983, Truffaut fathered a daughter with actress and then companion, Fanny Ardant, Joséphine Truffaut who was born on September 28, 1983, a year before his death.
Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Truffaut's second feature, although superficially a film noir gangster picture, is really a complex, humorous mixture of many genres and tones, based on the career of a failed concert pianist (played by Charles Aznavour). At the time audiences and critics did not understand it, but today it is generally regarded as one of his best.
Truffaut's third feature, Jules and Jim, based on a novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, was successful with the public and was recognized as a great film by nearly all critics, a view that holds to this day. Many consider it to be Truffaut's greatest. Truffaut had, in fact, worked on a script for this film before making The 400 Blows. It depicts a love triangle between Jules (Oskar Werner), a German living in Paris, his French friend Jim (Henri Serre), and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), a woman to whom they are both attracted. Among many other things, this film is a meditation on friendship, on what World War I did to both France and Germany, and on a love triangle. It also suggests that love and tragedy can be closely linked, as it ends in a murder-suicide when Catherine kills Jim and herself.
The Soft Skin—considered by many critics to be a weak Truffaut film—depicts an affair between a successful but weak married French lecturer and a much younger airline stewardess whom he meets on a trip to Lisbon. In the end his wife murders him when she discovers photographs of him with his lover.
Truffaut's final film, Confidentially Yours (1983), has Fanny Ardant playing the secretary of a real estate agent, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, falsely accused of multiple murders. Shot in black and white, this film is cast in the form of a film noir thriller, but, as in every previous case, Truffaut subverts the genre for his own purposes. The strongest departure from film noir convention is that the woman turns out to be the redeeming character and the one who investigates and solves the murder, and who marries her former boss in the end.
Truffaut once said, "I want a film I watch to express either the joy or the anguish of making cinema. I am not interested in all the films that don't vibrate." Truffaut's films do indeed vibrate, especially his earlier ones. Some critics and commentators accuse him of becoming stale and bourgeois in his later work, of becoming what he had so much scorned in his film criticism.
The dynamics of relationships, especially male-female erotic relationships, but sometimes triangular ones, as in Jules and Jim, are a common thread throughout most of his films. A comment sometimes made is that his films are about the question—or statement, in at least some of them—"Are women magic?" The Truffaut male, like Truffaut himself, is diffident and emotionally helpless (e.g., Jules and Jim, Mississippi Mermaid, The Bride Wore Black, The Man Who Loved Women, and many others). Although Truffaut's films may seem on the surface to exhibit the typical stereotype of man seeking woman as a sexual object and conquest, this is frequently undercut by irony, turning the joke against the man. In addition in Truffaut's later films the female characters become stronger and more assertive.
Truffaut had what might be called a "perfect ear" for cinema. His movies, even the least successful ones, are never saccharine or sentimental. Every image has behind it a shadow, and the auteur nearly always takes a self-critical approach, with one glaring exception–his handling of children, which is nearly always fully affirming of their importance and value. Small Change (1976), in addition to being a marvelous and very successful film, is an important example of that attitude; it was also one of his most commercially successful.
Truffaut was especially adept at showing both sides of emotion, both elation and deflation. In Bed and Board, for example, the characters Christine and Antoine are now married, but she discovers that he is having an affair with a Japanese woman. He comes home to Christine to find her waiting for him, dressed in a Japanese kimono. Her face shows acceptance of him, but on closer observation there is a tear running from her eye.
Truffaut's films frequently depict murder, suicide, doom, and the degradation brought on by love and its discontents—The Woman Next Door, Jules and Jim, and The Story of Adele H. are examples. The protagonists' illusions, especially those of the males, are always apparent and frequently punctured. His comedies are permeated with tragedy and his tragedies are suffused with comedy; in a Truffaut film comedy and tragedy cannot be divided easily into separate categories. He also worked with great narrative and aesthetic economy; his films do not have the explosive special effects, and other attention-getting tricks that occur in almost all present-day American films.
Truffaut learned central lessons form his predecessor—masters. Like Renoir, whose work his most resembles, Truffaut had a filmic sensibility that was humane, generous, and complex, and his films had no clear villain–except those who mistreat children and to a certain extent those who are authority figures. Like the films of Ernst Lubitsch, Truffaut's are deft, graceful and lyrical. Somewhat like Bresson, his films show an economy of means in reaching their goals, but whereas Bresson tends toward the austere, Truffaut is warm and affecting.
A tension between the absolute and the provisional runs through all Truffaut films. In each a search for the absolute lies alongside recognition of the fact that everything, even love, is provisional. But for Truffaut there is always one true absolute: film itself. A character in Day for Night remarks that she would leave a man for a film, but she would never leave a film for a man.
Some critics have faulted Truffaut for neglecting clear social and political criticism. Stolen Kisses, for example, was shot in Paris in 1968, the year of the great student-political upheavals, but the film takes hardly any notice of this except for an offhand remark Christine (Claude Jade) makes about attending a demonstration. What some see as a fault, however, is actually Truffaut's strength: he was after deeper and more important issues than the political or social crises of the moment. His are universal issues of human life, love, and spirit. Thus his films endure long after those about particular political issues have become stale or anachronistic.
Truffaut's most overtly political film was The Last Metro (1980), featuring Gérard Dépardieu as Bernard Granger, a theatrical actor, and Catherine Deneuve as Marion Steiner, the owner of a theater who is continuing to run the repertory company in the absence of her Jewish husband during the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II. Actually, the husband is hiding in the basement of the theater. This film again brings up the problem of the love triangle, as Marion finds herself in love with both her husband and Bernard. This film received ten César Awards, the French equivalent of the American Academy Award.
Truffaut was an expert on Sir Alfred Hitchcock, even publishing a book Hitchcock (1962, also known as Hitchcock/Truffaut) which recorded interviews and conversations with Hitchcock that he had conducted with the help of Helen Scott. The Bride Wore Black was his homage to Hitchcock, and his last film Confidentially Yours, a comedy thriller in black and white, could be considered to be a "faux Hitchcock."
Unlike Hitchcock's films, however, which are coldly mechanical and misanthropic exercises in the precisely planned and engineered, Truffaut's films have an atmosphere of spontaneity and of interesting digression, of things happening for no other reason than that they are cinematically interesting. In fact, many of his films—The 400 Blows and Stolen Kisses are notable examples—have many improvised shots and scenes and incidents. Frequently these spontaneous things seem to interrupt the progression of the narrative, but Truffaut was not so concerned with the story or narrative that he would allow it to override the interesting. Truffaut's films—unlike those of Jean-Luc Godard, for example—do have a beginning, middle, and end, in that order, but his eye for cinema dominates. Nonetheless, Truffaut is constantly restrained, not ostentatious; he is a precise craftsman, even of the spontaneous and improvised.
In Jules and Jim, for example, when Jim (Henri Serre) and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) kiss for the first time at the beginning of their affair, they are standing in front of a window and there is a fly crawling on the glass behind them. Whether accident or planned, that is a transcendent moment for film–something beyond story or plot that that immeasurably enhances the film as cinema and as life. Such things would never occur in Hitchcock. Stolen Kisses abounds in such moments, and Shoot the Piano Player could almost be thought of as a film constructed from ephemeral stuff. Yet Truffaut's movies are never self-indulgent or uncontrolled. He is a master cinema craftsman; his work is taut and measured. He did not realize it, but his mastery of cinema craft was arguably greater than that of his idol, Hitchcock.
Truffaut suffered from a brain tumor which was diagnosed in 1983, and underwent an operation at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine on September 12. He died just over a year later in the hospital on October 21, 1984. Fanny Ardant and Madeleine Morgenstern and his daughters Laura and Eva were at his bedside. As he had requested, his body was cremated and his ashes was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. On November 21, 1984, a Mass was celebrated for him at the church of Saint-Roche.
Truffaut was a keen and voracious reader, and he filmed many novels:
Most of Truffaut's other films result from original screenplays, often co-written by the screenwriters Suzanne Schiffman or Jean Gruault. He made films on very diverse subjects, including the sombre The Story of Adele H., inspired by the life of the daughter of Victor Hugo, with actress Isabelle Adjani in the lead role.
|Year||Original French title||English title||Notes|
|1957||Les Mistons||The Misfits|
|1958||Une Histoire d'eau||The Story of Water||Co-directed with Jean-Luc Godard|
|1959||Les Quatre cents coups||The 400 Blows||Antoine Doinel series|
|1960||Tirez sur le pianiste||Shoot the Piano Player|
|1962||Jules et Jim||Jules and Jim|
|1962||Antoine et Colette||Antoine and Colette||Antoine Doinel series, from L'Amour à vingt ans (Love at Twenty)|
|1964||La Peau douce||The Soft Skin|
|1965||Fahrenheit 451||Filmed in English|
|1967||La Mariée était en noir||The Bride Wore Black|
|1968||Baisers volés||Stolen Kisses||Antoine Doinel series|
|1969||La Sirène du Mississippi||Mississippi Mermaid|
|1970||L'Enfant sauvage||The Wild Child / The Wild Boy|
|1970||Domicile conjugal||Bed and Board||Antoine Doinel series|
|1971||Les Deux anglaises et le continent||Two English Girls|
|1972||Une belle fille comme moi||Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me / A Gorgeous Bird Like Me|
|1973||La Nuit américaine||Day for Night||Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film|
|1975||L'Histoire d'Adèle H.||The Story of Adele H.|
|1976||L'Argent de poche||Small Change|
|1977||L'Homme qui aimait les femmes||The Man Who Loved Women|
|1978||La Chambre verte||The Green Room|
|1979||L'Amour en fuite||Love on the Run||Antoine Doinel series|
|1980||Le Dernier métro||The Last Metro|
|1981||La Femme d'à côté||The Woman Next Door|
|1983||Vivement dimanche!||Confidentially Yours|
|Year||Original French title||English title||Notes|
|1977||Close Encounters of the Third Kind||Directed by Stephen Spielberg|
|Year||Original French title||English title||Notes|
|1960||À bout de souffle||Breathless||Directed by Jean-Luc Godard|
|1983||Breathless||English-language remake of À bout de souffle|
|1988||La petite voleuse||The Little Thief||Directed by Claude Miller|
|1995||Belle Époque||Television series|
Senses Of Cinema: François Truffaut. Retrieved July 28, 2007.
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