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The New Republic (1999) - The Fanatic




Thomson reviews "Truffaut" by Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana, translated by Catherine Temerson.


CRAMBLING TO ESCAPE an unhappy childhood, Francois Truffaut discovered the beguiling darkness known as the cinema. No other education meant as much to him as seeing two or three films every day. He was ten years old in 1942, and so those first ardently watched films were French; but as adolescence and adulthood overtook the slight boy, there came the great raptures of American movies, the ultimate dreams, borne on the wings of victory and liberation. From his heady point of regard, and with the strange intimacy of having Bogart and Bacall, say, so close in the smoky dark, Truffaut was always warmly inclined toward America. Later, America loved his shyness, his vulnerability, the sudden smiles that could transform his gaze, and the instinct for sentiment that is there in nearly all his films, without being sentimental.

He became a critic-a very good one, actually, and one of those young men notorious for having seen more movies than anyone else alive. It was his generation-in France, and then all over the world-that said there could be no moderation about cinema, no room even for the rest of life. You had to see everything; you had to live in the dark. It was the only way to be enlightened. And so zealots who knew little about anything except the camera's light fell into the habit of lecturing older, wiser people about anything and everything that might come under the span of "life studies." What nuisances!

Truffaut made many enemies. Most of the older generation of French filmmakers-all except the few who were "saved" (Renoir, Gance, Cocteau, Becker, Bresson, a few others)-reckoned that he deserved a spanking. Yet Truffaut was confident that he had learned life from American films, no matter that he hardly understood English. Authoritarian about so many matters, he was as pale as any creature confined to the dark. This fundamentalist of film was so aggressive in his twenties, and so dismissive of his elders, that he was r...

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