He ran a film club at 15, disturbed “quality” French cinema with his criticism at 21, and resurrected it with a New Wave at the age of 28. Had François Truffaut been alive today, he would have celebrated his 76th birthday this month. Twenty-three years after his death, Truffaut’s films are still extensively shown and discussed at Indian film societies and film festivals. And now, for the first time, five of his works have been (legally and locally) made available on DVDs. Palador Pictures, a home-grown world cinema distributor, has released a collection of five Truffaut films for the Indian audience.
In a career spanning 28 years, Truffaut made 26 films (including shorts), ranging from films widely considered to be autobiographical to adaptations of novels. What strings together the works of the master are the recurrent themes of love, passion, women, childhood, parodical tribute to Hollywood genres and his unmistakable New Wave style.
The Palador Truffaut collection presents five titles: Shoot the Pianist (1960), The Soft Skin (1964), Bed and Board (1970), Two English Girls (1971) and The Woman Next Door (1981). A fairly representative compilation of films by the master from three decades. The five films in the collection are strung together by a common theme of love and passion. The first, second and final one represent major works of the director on the theme of tragic love.
Take one: Bed and Board is a comedy about a young marriage.
Shoot the Pianist: Considered one his best, this is the second feature film by Truffaut. By this time he was an established film-maker and the world had welcomed the French New Wave. A story of enormous love and gigantic loss, Pianist reasserts the tragic consequence of love, a theme running through many films of the master. With his masterly touch, an apparently simple story of a pianist falling in love with a waitress turns into a multilayered narrative of passion, sacrifice and guilt, all the while paying a comical tribute to Hollywood gangster films of the 1930s and 1940s.
The Soft Skin: By this time, Truffaut was famous, not only for his path-breaking400 Blows but also for his extremely popular love triangle Jules et Jim . The film tells the story of a middle-aged lecturer who devastates his married life after falling in love with an air hostess. Another love story that leads to tragic consequences.
Bed and Board:A comic love story that’s funny and enjoyable. Truffaut’s alter ego Jean Claude Leaud plays a husband who falls for a Japanese beauty. However, the short-lived affair helps the couple rediscover their love for each other.
Two English Girls: It is one of the disputed films of Truffaut. One group of fans considers it a minor work and a stylistic aberration while another faction considers it an underestimated masterpiece. The one that’s for certain is that the film looks completely different from other Truffaut works. However, thematically, it continues the exploration of that painful feeling called love. It is based on the second novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, who also wrote Jules et Jim. A strikingly beautiful film, however, it could disappoint those who look for traits of the French New Wave in every Truffaut film.
Woman Next Door:The second last film of the director, made three years before he died of a brain tumour in 1984. A film seething with fatal passion. In Truffaut’s own words (as said by the protagonist in the film), “a love story with a beginning, a middle and an end” (a tragic one). A story of lovers “who can neither live with each other nor without” (the words of the narrator Madame Jouve). A powerful and definitive work of the director.
Though any Truffaut collection would be incomplete without 400 Blows—the Indian distribution rights of the masterpiece are currently entangled in a legal dispute—this one should be welcomed as a Truffaut collection on love and passion. Palador presents the films in good print and without cuts. However, where it falls short of its international peers is the missing bonus material that collectors’ edition DVDs generally offer: Don’t expect a vintage Truffaut interview or a documentary on the master. Nevertheless, this collection does attempt to compensate for what it lacks. There are four short films made by the likes of Sriram Raghavan (Johnny Gaddaar and Ek Hasina Thi), Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Rajat Kapoor and Kannada director Girish Kasaravalli.
Considering the print quality and titles, this doesn’t seem like an expensive proposition, but offering shorts by Indian directors as bonus really falls short of expectations. An interview—if not of the master, maybe on the master—would have been an ideal accompaniment. Despite this shortcoming, this collection is a beginning long overdue, and worth a warm welcome.
Each DVD in the Truffaut collection is priced at Rs399, and will be available both separately as well as in a special collector’s box-set. The set is available online at Mypalador.com but individual DVDs should be available at all major video stores by the time you read this.
(Bikas Mishra is editor of DearCinema.com a website on world cinema)
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