If I have been consistent in my concern for Godard's flailing ability as a director as he moved into a post 60's era of filmmaking, I can say with some certainty that I have no concern whatsoever about the abilities and masterpieces produced by Francois Truffaut both during the French New Wave and well after his rather unconventional role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As my previous reviews of Jules Et Jim and The 400 Blows, have shown, I thoroughly enjoy the work of Truffaut and my well established love for Shoot The Piano Player and Small Change make him one of my most well favored of French filmmakers. Slap Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu into the picture and things could not be better, one could call The Last Metro Truffaut's answer to Kurosawa's Dodes'ka-den or a reflection of how Resistance fighters shaped the landscape of World War II Parisian life, however, I would be hard pressed to find a person who would flatly dismiss this film as anything less than perfect. What I have come to understand and love about Truffaut is that he often fabricates a complex, often organic narrative that seems traditional in every sense of the word, only to completely pull the plug out at the last moment, resulting in cinematic disarray that leaves viewers perplexed and ponderous, without ever losing the cool hip French stylings of the other face of the French New Wave.
The Last Metro centers on the experiences of a theater attempting to stay afloat with the constant oppressive gaze of Nazi's present in occupied France. The current manager of the theater is Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve), who despite predominately being an actress, has undertook the role of manager in the disappearance of her husband at the first signs of Jewish persecution. Entering into the picture, as well, is a young, well-regarded actor named Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu) who also finds himself at odds as a result of the war torn world of Paris. Together they engage in a play, delivering performances to accepting crowds under the direction of the man who replaced Marion's husband, his former assistant Jean-Loup Cottins (Jean Poiret). However, to the ignorance of the Nazi's present, as well as Bernard himself, Marion's husband Lucas (Heinz Bennett) has actually been providing directors notes to both Marion and Jean-Loup thus allowing him to continue directing pro-Jewish films literally right under the noses of the Nazi occupiers. However, a set of Nazi intellectuals become suspicious and begin to do what they can to shut down the theater, a task they eventually succeed in doing, however, their actions are just a bit too late, as France is freed by allied forces and Lucas is allowed to leave hiding. Unfortunately for him, Marion and Bernard had entered into an intimate affair while he was away something that clouds the closing portions of the film, an ending that is particularly meta in its narrative, as Truffaut pulls away the camera to review the stage and the actors occupying said stage as to suggests that everything is, after all, one big performance.
This notion of performance, and theatricality in particular, influence and construct the ebb and flow of The Last Metro. The opening shots and interactions within the film suggest the relatively cramped spaces of theater stages as they relate to film sets and cinema in general. Characters often engage with one another as though an audience is involved, facing out towards the camera, this is most obvious when we are initially introduced to the character of Bernard, all of which is furthered by the clear commentary added by the narrative being almost completely existent within the aforementioned theater. The possibilities for Truffaut's choice to focus on the performative are likely endless, but I find two notions to his actions of note. The first is the clear juxtaposition with the performance elements of Nazi soldiers and their entire political movement for that matter. Truffaut is careful to paint the picture of a few soldiers within the Nazi lines as being good, but simply stuck in a system that forced them into uniform, leading to an inevitable performance, one that is rewarded when done properly. Furthermore, it could be a cinematic and philosophic reflection on how we as individuals perform our currently assigned social roles, whether they be clear delineators like male/female or more abstract notions like captor/captive, Truffaut clearly means to analyze what goes into each performance and to what degree these performances are hiding, especially when this hiding could prove extremely fatal if found out at any moment. It is an enigmatic film, but in classic Truffaut fashion, the story is so good you find yourself easily forgetting its necessity.
Key Scene: The meeting of Bernard and Lucas is short, quick and awkward, but without a doubt the most important interaction in the film overall and a great moment of connection between two actors. If you are reading this just as it goes up, Criterion is having a flash sale on all its DVD's and Blurays, one of which is The Last Metro, there is really no excuse not to own a copy.