The Literary Sophistication of François Truffaut


François Truffaut on set of Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

“Truffaut is not literate merely because his films contain allusions to Renoir, Walsh, Vigo and Hitchcock, although they are the sources of the film conventions he manipulates, nor because Jules and Jim contains references to Shakespeare, Goethe, Don Quixote, Mozart, Picasso, and Baudelaire. Truffaut’s literary sophistication is a matter of technique and sensibility. Because most films deal with people and situations and tell some sort of story, directors cope with problems that dramatists and novelists face; often they solve them in a way akin to that of their literary counterparts. Resnais in Last Year at Marienbad and Dreyer in Vampyr, for example, maintain a unity of tone that would have pleased Poe. Antonioni probes small incidents and paces his exploration like Henry James. I would like to focus upon two techniques, interesting in themselves, which help us to grasp the meanings of Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player and Jules and Jim. The first technique, used in the modern novel and in continental drama, is the technique of dislocation. The second technique, irony, is basic to all forms of literature. Because I am using these terms in a special sense, especially ‘dislocation,’ I will discuss them before illustrating how they work in Truffaut’s films. Dislocation, like Brecht’s alienation, is an effect; it is experienced by the audience or reader because it is potential in the art object. When the spectator is alienated, he is distanced from a play or film or story, so that he may respond with the creative intellect. The artist, in employing the technique of dislocation, attempts to prevent this, because he fears his audience will think in conventional patterns. He may fragment the narrative, use an unreliable narrator, distort space, alter the temporal sequence, etc., to this rhetorical end. The dislocated reader or viewer, confused by distortions in the narrative, has to accept the author’s view in order to make sense out of the material. Truffaut expresses concern, in his interviews, about audience reaction to his films. Like him, playwrights as diverse as Brecht, Genet, and Pirandello have devised new techniques to overcome the difficult problem of communication with an audience. An avant-garde dramatist often assumes that audiences come to a play with a set of commonplace expectations and prejudices that block their relating to the work of art. …”
Film Comment
W – François Truffaut
YouTube: The Films of François Truffaut 7:20

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