Film Comment (1971) - Francois Truffaut: a man can serve two masters
- article: Francois Truffaut: a man can serve two masters
- author(s): David Bordwell
- journal: Film Comment (1971)
- issue: volume 7, issue 1, page 18
- journal ISSN: 0015-119X
- publisher: Film Society of Lincoln Center
- keywords: Accomplices, Actors, Alfred Hitchcock, André Bazin, Bernard Herrmann, Cahiers du Cinéma, Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, Leo Braudy, MacGuffin, Montgomery Clift, North by Northwest (1959), Notorious (1946), Pauline Kael, Psycho (1960), Rear Window (1954), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Strangers on a Train (1951), The 39 Steps (1935)
A photograph "directed" by François Truffaut in a recent Esquire shows him reclining jauntily on a chair, his back turned to us while he puffs on an enormous cigar; his face is ingeniously reflected toward us in the open French window. The shot and the accompanying article seem to confirm what many have been suspecting for a long time. The cigar, the cutely oblique point-of-view, the claim that he makes films for the man in the street- isn't this all the outcome of Truffaut's whoring after false gods, and one portly god in particular? Pauline Kael, with typical nuance, concluded long ago that Truffaut is "a bastard pretender to the commercial throne of Hitchcock."
It is a tempting charge. After all, didn't the great trilogy and half of the soft skin recall the work of the grand old man of French cinema, Jean Renoir? How could Truffaut go from such lyricism to the theatrics of FAHRENHEIT 451, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, STOLEN KISSES, AND MISSISSIPPI MERMAID? The Hitchcock in-jokes, Bernard Herrmann's scores, and the pulp-novel plots do suggest that he has degenerated from Renoir to Hitchcock- or, some would say, from Hyperion to a satyr.
The view seems to me unjust because, after all, we typed Truffaut too early in his career. (He was not yet thirty when he made JULES AND JIM.) We were taken with his Renoirian delight in spontaneous digression, his celebration of life's looseness. We forgot that such artistic latitude can be as harmful as complete confinement. Renoir, who had always recognized the need for rigor in even the most seemingly casual style, concentrated his plots either spatially (as in LA GRANDE ILLUSION) or formally (as in LA REGLE DU JEU) and turned later to theatricality because it offered challenging restrictions. "There's really no freedom without discipline," Renoir has said, "because without it one falls back on the disciplines one constructs for oneself, and they are really formidable. It's much better if the restraints are imposed from outside."
This remark pinpoints Truffaut's dilemma. After three very free films, he had to choose between inventing his own form (or anti-form, à la Godard) and following Renoir's lead in seeking a discipline that was not intolerably confining. He chose the latter, and, being of a different generation than Renoir, he turned not to the theater but to film genres. Thus the new direction in Truffaut's work springs from a subjection of his lyrical impulses to the pressures of a new form- or, more precisely, a new formula.
Enter Alfred Hitchcock. Truffaut's worship of Renoir had always been accompanied by an admiration for the Master of Suspense. (Cahiers du Cinéma had run his discerning essay on SHADOW OF A DOUBT when he was only twenty-two.) He could hardly have chosen two more different idols. Whereas Renoir's is the cinema of liberty, equality, and fraternity, Hitchcock probes a world of guilt, betrayal, and malignant coincidence. Renoir celebrates joy and love; Hitchcock excels in depicting fear, suspicion, and jealousy. Renoir loves and respects his actors; to Hitchcock they are cattle under contract. Renoir favors improvisation on the set, but Hitchcock maps out each shot before a frame of film is exposed. Renoir goes on location looking for lucky accidents of atmosphere; Hitchcock prefers to stay in the studio for more control. And while Renoir's loose plots suggest the possibility that man can attain freedom, Hitchcock's compressed intrigues entrap the characters in a ruthlessly constricting moral field.
Truffaut, whose temperament followed the Renoirian lines of autobiography, improvisation, and formal looseness, found the objectivity and concentration of Hitchcock an attractive restraint. In a 1962 interview, he suggested that "we can discipline our work so that it becomes complex and has more than one layer of meaning." He explained by recasting the plot of Chabrol's LES BONNES FEMMES as Hitchcock would have shot it, adding mystery, suspense, and surprise. "Don't tell me it would be inferior or vulgar done that way . . . It's all there, but inserted into a framework which keeps you on the edge of your seat." One can, he insisted, express a story of subtle emotions within the confines of a formula entertainment; one can mix Renoir and Hitchcock. What had started as a catholicity of critical taste thus became a rich tension in Truffaut's work.
The tension, latent in SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER and JULES AND JIM, becomes perhaps too explicit in THE SOFT SKIN , a curious melange of love-story and suspense-story. Most critics found the deceived wife's revenge on her husband discomfiting; how could Truffaut annihilate such a delicate romance with those abrupt shotgun-blasts? In career terms, Pierre's wife is another example of Truffaut's betraying women (Antoine's mother in THE 400 BLOWS, Charlie's wife in SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER, Montag's wife in FAHRENHEIT 451) and vengeful murderesses (Moreau in JULES AND JIM and THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, Deneuve in MERMAID); but in dramatic terms, the femme fatale element is perfunctorily inserted into THE SOFT SKIN. Still, the film represents a serious attempt to pit a lyrical temperament against a stringent suspense-formula.
It was this growing absorption with the discipline of suspense and intrigue that in 1965 led Truffaut to undertake a project which recharged his creative batteries: he interviewed not Renoir but Hitchcock. The resulting book, which has been justly and cogently attacked by Leo Braudy in Film Quarterly, is not a success. Truffaut feverishly tries to ventriloquize into a phlegmatic Hitchcock meditations on grace and guilt while the old master drones on about famous crimes, technical gimmicks, and box-office figures. Still, the book does afford valuable clues to Truffaut's own work. His introduction shows he understands Hitchcock's techniques- the "MacGuffin", the importance of timing and coincidence, the injection of uncertainty and suspicion into the most innocuous scenes, the use of glance to control point-of-view, and the strategy of putting a commercial gloss on a formally daring film. Not surprisingly these techniques of suspense, surprise, and subjectivity provide the formal discipline for Truffaut's next four films. Yet he doesn't use these devices mechanically. Rather, he opens them up, analyzes them, warms them- Renoirianizes them, we might say. The later films become essays toward a comfortable form, and in one for certain (STOLEN KISSES) and perhaps in another (Mississippi mermaid), we find a successful fusion of Renoirian lyricism and Hitchcockian intrigue.
Truffaut has always made his protagoinists outsiders ("My characters are on the edge of society"), and in this his latest films are no different. In FAHRENHEIT 451, Montag takes to reading books in secret. Jeanne Moreau, in the bride wore black, commits herself to total revenge, accepting a sterility and solitude reminiscent of Charlie's in SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER. In STOLEN KISSES, Antoine moves forlornly from job to job, and Belmondo, in mermaid, begins as a lonely-hearts correspondent and ends as a murderer on the run. Crime forces these characters into flight; like the protagonists of THE 39 STEPS, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, most of Truffaut's recent heroes are forced to become fugitives.
Once displaced from society, the characters must seek happiness on their own. The plots become quests: the bride tracking down the five men; Belmondo, gun in hand, following Deneuve to a shabby nightspot; Antoine's crisscrossed Odyssey through Paris; Montag's search for the Book People. The shifts of locale become thematically important. The bride's murder itinerary constitutes a survey of five different classes and life-styles, and Antoine's wanderings compile data on modern attitudes toward love and work. As in Hitchcock, changes of setting suggest changes in character: Montag moves from the city to nature, from the firehouse to the wintry landscape; Belmondo begins at his sultry plantation and ends in a snowbound hut. But Truffaut's preference for ending his plots in pastoral settings, quite uncharacteristic of Hitchcock, is a reminder of his Renoirian affinities.
It is these affinities which counterbalance any tendency toward intrigue pure and simple. Truffaut's Renoirian impulses move him toward a more centrifugal, inclusive form. While Hitchcock's deterministic plots move toward a parable-like strictness, Truffaut (like Renoir) welcomes digressions that give us fitful glimpses of a wider context. The private griefs of Truffaut's protagonists are illuminated by the casual intrusions of strangers that remind us that beyond the Individual, life flows on. In Jules and Jim, an anarchist smears on a wall, "Death to the other(s)," but when Jim returns from the war, Jules asks immediately, "How are the others?" The question is a measure of his and Truffaut's humanity; we cannot forget that there are always others. Hence the tension which dominates Truffaut's latest films. The intrigue formula demands that every character be essential, that every detail advance the suspense. But the opposite tendency toward haphazard inclusiveness strains such an introverted form: strangers wander in, gratuitous details intrude, suggesting the casual irrelevancies that permeate everyday life.
SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER offers a paradigm for Truffaut's resolution of the tension. Charlie's brother is running from other gangsters: conventional suspense. He slams into a telephone pole, gets up, and falls into step beside a man who nonchalantly confesses all sorts of things about his sex life. In suspense terms, this is anticlimactic, but Truffaut Isn't really interested in suspense. His puncturing of a purely mechanical formula mocks the pat view of life which the suspense-drama posits and suggests the unpredictability and evasiveness of existence; life will not be reduced to neat patterns. Truffaut has lyricized intrigue.
This is the operating principle in all his post-1965 films. Truffaut's journal of FAHRENHEIT 451 [in Cahiers du Cinéma in English, volume 1, nos 5,6,7] offers the clearest record of his attempt to give depth and humanity to a pure genre-picture. Realizing that science-fiction tends toward gimmickry, he worked against the grain, introducing archaicisms- oldfashioned telephones, dresses, houses, utensilswhich he called "anti-gadgetry." The fire captain was envisioned as an ogre, but when Truffaut saw that Cyril Cusack could be schoolmarmish but not menacing, he realized that the former was better: "Because of it (or thanks to it) we're getting away from melodrama and the role will be more alive." Throughout production, Truffaut recognized all the compromises inherent in the film- the simpleminded story, the stiff characters, the whiff of Stanley Kramer. He took a very auteurist gamble, hoping to transcend a formula by the force of his temperament: "When one is navigating in the waters of science-fiction, one is sacrificing verisimilitude and psychology, which is not a serious matter if one makes up in plausibility and lyrical feeling what one loses by being out of tune with reality."
How does this lyricization overhaul the apparatus of intrigue? FAHRENHEIT 451 begins with the classic suspense-device of cinema: cross-cutting. Firemen slide down the pole and leap aboard the truck; a young man, gnawing an apple, gets a phone call warning him to flee; cut back to the firemen. But once they arrive, the plot doesn't follow the young man, as we might expect. He simply escapes and is quickly forgotten in the firemen's swift and expert search for books. "Why will they do it?" clucks the Captain. "Sheer perversity." The victim's fear, the methodical search, the surprising hiding places, the authorities' petulance- all gain an impetus from the suspense. The cross-cutting has caught our interest and channeled it to the real subject of the film.
This principle of deflected suspense rules Truffaut's subsequent films. He repeatedly builds our expectations by mystery and tension, only to divert our interest from plot to character. In THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, we know the men must die, and our interest focuses not on how Moreau will do them in but on how they will react when they learn their fates. In STOLEN KISSES, the client who wants his magician friend followed introduces a note of mystery, all of which is dispelled later when he simply rages and weeps and drops out of the film. MISSISSIPPI MERMAID abounds in red herrings: Belmondo's pursuit of Deneuve stops abruptly when he simply gives up the motion of killing her; her poisoning of him, instead of building to a melodramatic finale, tapers off into an underplayed, ambiguous reconciliation, Truffaut capitalizes on melodrama's ability to seize our attention and emotions, but then mildly mocks it by having his characters respond not as figures in an intrigue but as people in life.
Truffaut deflates Hitchcockian surprise as skilfully as he deflates suspense. In FAHRENHEIT 451, Montag has broken into the Captain's office and is discovered; he faints dead away. In STOLEN KISSES, the old detective just keels over at the telephone, and at the finale, the mysterious figure trailing Christine reveals himself to be literally nobody. When, in MISSISSIPPI MERMAID, Belmondo sees Deneuve on TV, Truffaut seems to be admitting that without this coincidence, the story would stop; he films the scene absolutely deadpan. Only THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, Truffaut's most Hitchcockian film, plays up its surprises to the very end. For this reason, one may admit that it is Truffaut's coldest film: for once he reduces his characters almost totally to their plot functions.
For Hitchcock, suspense and surprise follow from a rigorous use of cinematic point-of-view. He knows precisely when to involve us by means of subjective camera movement and editing and when to distance us by means of omniscient angles and cross-cutting. In Hitchcock, subjectivity is usually gained by confining a scene to only what one character sees or knows, thus ominously restricting the audience's knowledge as well. Occasional parallel editing (often stressing the recurrent theme of doubles) permits a complex fusion of suspenseful identification and ironic detachment. Suspense derives from the audience's sharing the character's ignorance; surprise derives from a sudden shift from subjectivity to objectivity. In I CONFESS, for instance, we have fastened our identification on the priest Montgomery Clift when, at the scene of a murder, a woman comes out of the crowd and exclaims to Clift, "We're free!"; the surprise abruptly distances us from the character. To such ends Hitchcock uses all the resources of subjective shots, crisp cutting, and rebounding glances to make his characters Jamesian centers of consciousness.
Both on paper and on film, Truffaut has paid tribute to the power of Hitchcock's point-of-view technique. "Because of his unique ability to film the thoughts of his characters and make them perceptible without resorting to dialogue, he is, to my way of thinking, a realistic director," he observed in his book, and as early as 1962 he noted: "The cinema becomes subjective when the actor's gaze meets that of the audience. And if the audience feels the need to identify (even in a film where the director has no such intention), it automatically does so with the face whose gaze it meets most frequently." He accordingly concluded that THE 400 BLOWS is pure Hitchcock. "Why? Because from the first shot to the last, one identifies with the boy."
There is a sense that Truffaut has tried to carry this technique into his recent films, An occasional subjective angle- with Montag watching the Captain punishing students, with Clarisse when she revisits the school- add a certain uneasiness to FAHRENHEIT 451 , and THE BRIDE WORE BLACK judiciously alternates our identification with the bride with an ironic omniscience. In MISSISSIPPI MERMAID, we are mainly with Belmondo and thus share his bewilderment about Deneuve's behavior; we see a new side of Deneuve's character when through Jardine's eyes we watch her quarreling with an unknown man. But in these films, Truffaut has not followed Hitchcock's lead in dissecting the moral implications of point-of-view; it would seem to be the one technique Truffaut borrowed uncritically. In STOLEN KISSES, though, he does analyze point-of-view, and so creates his richest blending of autobiography and detachment, spontaneity and discipline, lyricism and intrigue. "Our best film," he writes, "is perhaps the one in which we succeed in expressing, voluntarily or not, our ideas about life and about the cinema." STOLEN KISSES may not be his best film, but it is his most profound exploration of the tension between his Renoirian temperament and a Hitchcockian form.
These two imposing gods hover over the very first shots, indeed the very title, of STOLEN KISSES. The long-shots of Paris and the recurrent tricouleur suggest Renoir reborn in the sixties. But then a pan and zoom to a window (echoing psycho's opening) take us to Antoine in a jail cell: the hint of crime and the question of spying will thread the film à la Hitchcock. If the ensuing story seems as relaxed as Renoir, it is because the lives of others casually intrude at the most unexpected moments; but the plot also moves into Hitchcockian regions of crime, secrecy, and voyeurism.
Still, Truffaut is more than the sum of Renoir and Hitchcock. The shut-down Cinémathèque, the atmosphere of Paris during the student strike, the references to LA CHINOISE and MISSISSIPPI MERMAID, and the reappearance of Antoine's idol Balzac are figuresin afamiliarand unique landscape. Thefilm's theme- the relationship between love and work in the modern world- is also a characteristic Truffaut one, which is enriched by the homage he pays his French and American mentors.
The characters of STOLEN KISSES see sex and love from the standpoint of their professions. At first, the military attitude: someone shouts, "Get laid for me, Doinell"; Antoine watches an officer tell a class that dismantling a mine is like seducing a woman. Antoine's reason for enlisting (his frustrated love of Christine) and his failure as a soldier strike the two keys of his character: romanticism in love and incompetence in work. As soon as he is released, he visits a brothel. The first jolie laide, as polyethelene as Madeleine in MASCULINE FEMININE, won't be mussed; sex may be her job, but rumply affection is out. A second is more pliant, but no less false. From the start, then, man and woman are both seen as rapacious and chilly, viewing sex as business-as-usual. By contrast, Christine's parents suggest the possibility of a healthy relationship, but ironically, they may be so happy because they are in business together. Antoine's visit to them capsulizes his position: he eagerly pursues love but has no job prospects.
At first this theme is traced with methodical Hitchcockery. The vehicle is Antoine's stint as a detective; the method, surveillance; the motif, doors and windows. A private detective pries into the (primarily sexual) secrets of the populace; his role of curious but anonymous observer epitomizes the detached voyeurism of both the individual in modern society and us in the audience. Henri's invasion of the hotel defines the strategy of the detective business- exploiting others to help one pry Into sordid secrets- and Antoine's reaction to it- impulsive innocence. Like the prostitute's the detective's business is sex, but for him it is impersonal voyeurism.
Truffaut's visual style corroborates the surveillance theme. We watch people at a distance and through windows and glass doors; we see a mirror distort M. Tabard; we glimpse scenes played in doorways; we have doors banged shut in our faces; and we even view some scenes through Antoine's eyes. Truffaut has thoroughly absorbed what he needs of Hitchcock's idiosyncratic point-of-view techniques, STOLEN KISSES, stylistically glosses NOTORIOUS, REAR WINDOW, and PSYCHO; like them, it is a moral condemnation of voyeurism.
When Antoine joins the Blady Agency, the catalogue of work-misshapen loves swells; some entries are pathetic, others comic. Blady surmises that a client hired them to watch his secretary because he's secretly in love with her. A couple who work at the Agency argue in front of a mirror. Antoine solves the case of a nurse who takes a baby out for a stroll, leaves it in a dingy room, and goes to a club where she strips in her uniform, adding filips with the baby's bottle. "Look professional," an older detective advises Antoine on a date, so he turns his collar up- just like the stranger trailing Christine. Yet detection proves difficult for Antoine. He loses a suspect by calling Christine and chatting uneasily with a former girlfriend. Just the reverse occurs at the bistro; when for once he is being completely professional, he must ignore Christine. Success in love or success in work- Antoine can't have both.
The Tabard case is the central example of the film. "Everybody hates me," M. Tabard announces, and unwittingly demonstrates why. As we observe his stuffiness and coldness, we realize that his employees loathe him because he ignores them as people. He shares the business-sex confusion too; he likes to look up his salesgirls' dresses and he claims that he learned English in bed with an English girl while her husband was at work. Tabard lives for his business and ignores human warmth, while Antoine, incompetent at every job he tries, lives for love. Small wonder, then, that he is dazzled by Madame Tabard: always dressed in black and white, she is as much a prisoner as Mme. de Mortsauf in Le Lys dans la Vallee. Significantly, Antoine first sees her standing like a mannequin in the window of her husband's store; the shot perfectly symbolizes the role she plays in her husband's mind. But the moment Antoine sees her, he forgets his jobs: his ecstatic report to the Agency abandons professional objectivity for spontaneous poetry. But the Agency secretary reprimands him, reminding us that in this world love is unprofessional.
As Truffaut's film deviates from the rigor of Hitchcockian formula, Antoine's infatuation moves him away from the discpline of surveillance and toward the intimacy of love. At the shaving mirror, Antoine tries to learn English. Later, when he hypnotically chants his name and the names of Madame Tabard and Christine into the same mirror, his monologue becomes a Gertrude-Steinian panegyric, a celebration of the happy cohesion of rhythms and accents. The comic narcissism of the scene aptly evokes the self-absorption of adolescent love.
Antoine's professionalism finally collapses at Madame Tabard's luncheon. "Do you like music?" she asks, and, probably remembering Henri's warning to be respectful to superiors, he blurts out, "Yes, sir." He dashes out, all control lost. In answering a hint of affection in the hypocritical jargon of business, he has failed as both detective and admirer.
The affair moves toward an investigative complexity that satirizes the detached surveillance of the detective's role: the female agent shadowing Madame Tabard watches her visit to Antoine's rooming-house while Christine's futile call is scrutinized by her mysterious follower. Because of his choice of love over work, Antoine has fallen into the intrigue; no longer the outside observer, now an observed participant. At the Blady agency, a marvelous shot reinforces this: M. Blady is listening to the reports of the detectives when Antoine steps into view in the background- no longer the hunter, but the culprit. In this context, Henri's death (in the act of impersonation!) epitomizes the pathetic anonymity and deceit of the detective business. At the cemetery, Antoine separates himself from the Blady people and wanders off. It is his farewell to the profession. He abandons his job to seek love, and as we watch him select a girl from among the prostitutes waiting in the chill beyond the graveyard wall, we recall an earlier remark: "Making love is a way of compensating; you have to prove you still exist."
Throughout the film, Christine's student activities have been her excuse for avoiding Antoine; she has escaped from love into her "job." But a shot of her at the table, facing away from the television image of student demonstrations, implies that she has repudiated her previous behavior. She yanks out a TV tube and calls Antoine, who is now a repairman. When he arrives, work becomes a pretext for love. The camera tracks over the parts-strewn floor (Antoine is in the wrong business again) to the ticking meter, tiptoes up the stairs, and peeps into- the wrong bedroom. The camera shamefacedly doubles back and discovers the couple in the parents' bed. These handheld shots, a lyrical joke on Hitchcockian point-of-view, undermine the premise of the detective business and our involvement in the intrigue as cinematically as Antoine's behavior does dramatically. In the morning, the Christine-Antoine breakfast scene recapitulates the Madame Tabard-Antoine relationship- coffee at luncheon and frantic correspondence- but with a contrasting intimacy and spontaneity: no spilled coffee, love notes passed across a kitchen table.
The climactic scene, as in most Truffaut films, takes place in nature (or as near it as Paris will permit). Antoine and Christine are sitting on a park bench when the man who has been shadowing her draws near. In a film so full of snooping, we have assumed him to be another detective. A shot taken from behind the lovers places them visually in the front row of the theatre, watching the man as we have been watching them. "I know all about life," the stranger says. "I know that everybody betrays everybody. I've no work, I've no obligation to anyone." He announces his perpetual love of Christine, and as he moves off he adds with a smile: "I am very happy." Truffaut will not let us savor Antoine's happiness without reminding us of the others- those who trail life, watching from a distance. Antoine was very nearly doing it himself, and he may be again; love isn't certain, even when divorced from work. Truffaut has invoked Hitchcockian intrigue only to dispell it, violating melodramatic formula by the force of his Renoirian sensitivity to joy and melancholy. What Bazin wrote of Renoir applies to Truffaut perfectly: "If Renoir amuses himself and us by taking his actors to the edge of parody, and if he lingers over apparently accessory charms, it is the better to seize us all at once with a truth we were not expecting."
STOLEN KISSES and MISSISSIPPI MERMAID seem to me to represent a deepening and enrichment of Truffaut's synthesis of Renoir and Hitchcock. While FAHRENHEIT 451 and THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, full of undigested Hitchcock, are Truffaut's only In small touches, lyrical cadenzas, the more recent films subsume the intrigue elements- detection, voyeurism, the chase- to more personally expressive ends. True, in mermaid especially, all the in-jokes are there: references to the birds, Cahiers critic Comolli, the "Clinique Heurtebise" souvenir of Cocteau, and the "Arizona Jim" gag (stolen from Renoir's THE CRIME OF M. LANGE) that Godard and Truffaut are swatting back and forth. But MERMAID nevertheless marks a new maturity in Truffaut's handling of adult situations. His characters are no longer children (THE 400 BLOWS), adolescents (STOLEN KISSES), or adults who behave like adolescents (JULES AND JIM). Likewise, the escape into voyeurism is repudiated: as Deneuve and Belmondo flee the police, she says she wants to be with her accomplice Richard, and Belmondo answers bitterly that she can take a hotel room opposite Richard's cell and glimpse him everyday. The suggestion, which refers back to LOVE AT 20, STOLEN KISSES, and Truffaut's own past, is seen as an act of cowardice and irresponsibility. Truffaut finally condemns Hitchcockian voyeurism as clearly as Renoir does in his remark: "The big problem is not to stop at being a voyeur. Not to look on at people's predicaments as if you were a tourist on a balcony. You have to take part."
It is significant, then, that children, previously so central to Truffaut's vision, are of peripheral importance in his last four films. Is it too much to suggest that L'ENFANT SAUVAGE [WILD CHILD] marks Truffaut's return to the emotional impulse of THE 400 BLOWS but with a new compassion for the adult? (He has remarked that he erred in making Antoine's mother too nasty; now he himself is playing the guardian-role.) Perhaps passing through a Hitchcock phase matured his sensibility, made him more aware of the sinister complexity of human nature. In any event, those who groan at Truffaut's pretentious photograph and charge him with Hitchcockian cynicism could not be more wrong. His last two films verify the sincerity of the impulse that led him to preface Mississippi mermaid with the words: "This film is dedicated to Jean Renoir."