He wrote170 articles in just over six years. As film critic for the magazine Les Cahiers du cinema, François Truffaut stood out for his scorching, direct style. He exchanged the pen for the camera and became a director and was one of the leading names in the Nouvelle Vague. movement
Regular viewer, sharp film critic, renowned director. François Truffaut, one of the main personalities of Nouvelle Vague, wrote about the Seventh Art before who moved to the other side of the camera.
The Nouvelle Vague journalist
“There aren’t good and bad films, only good and bad directors”. The beginning of François Truffaut’s career as a film critic made headlines… and caused controversy.
“I wrote an inflammatory piece on Cahiers about the French films typified by the screenwriters Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, the fossils of French cinema”, says Truffaut. The young cinema fan collaborated with LesCahiers du cinéma, a magazine cofounded by the theorist and film critic André Bazin.
The article “Une certaine tendance du cinéma français”, published in 1954, paved the way for the revolution of French cinema caused by Nouvelle Vague, a movement that highlighted the role of the director as “auter”.
Truffaut’s passion for cinema had started in his youth. The filmmaker, born on the 6th of February, 1932, in Paris, found in the Seventh Art a way of escaping from his troubled childhood.
An avid viewer, he missed class to go to clubs and film rooms, sneakily making his way in, since he didn’t have money for the ticket. Passionate about the 7th Art, he collected newspaper and magazine articles about his favourite directors. He founded, in 1948, the film club Cercle Cinémane, but the project wasn’t successful.
Active in Paris’ cultural life, Truffaut joined film society Objectif 49 and he often went to Club du Faubourg. It was precisely in the prestigious club where, in 1950, the literary editor of the magazine Elle offered him a job, after being impressed with his eloquence.
Truffaut started to write for other publications, such asCiné-Digest, Lettres du Monde and France-Dimanche, in some cases also working as a photographer. After a few months, he got sick of this kind of Journalism, which he considered “superfluous”.
His first mark in the film world was left through Journalism, as a critic.
Director in the making
The controversial article spread his name and got the attention of other publications, among which was the weekly Arts-Lettres-Spectacles, where Truffaut became responsible for the film column.
His style was ferocious, direct and opinative, suggesting a new vision for film. The impact of his words was such that he became known as “Le Fossoyeur” [“The Gravedigger”] of French film.
In the newsroom of LesCahiers du cinéma, Truffaut was part of a group of young critics, baptised by Bazin as “Hitchcocko-Hawksians”, a reference to their favourite directors.
Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jean-Luc Godard were also part of the group, which would be in the core of Nouvelle Vague.
Between March 1953 and November 1959, Truffaut published 170 articles in Les Cahiers du cinéma, mostly film critics of interviews with directors. His intelligent and provocative writing shook the world of French cinema.
“In retrospective, my critics seem more negative than the opposite, because I consider more stimulating to condemn than to praise; I was better at condemning than at defending. And I regret it”.
His unique style wasn’t unanimously accepted. In 1948, the organization of Cannes Film Festival refused to accredit him as a journalist.
The explanation? An article published in the former year, in which he accused the French film industry of producing “too many mediocre films” and described Cannes as a “failure dominated by deals, schemes and faux pas”.
Truffaut was the only French critic without an invitation.
The pen and the camera
In spite of his success as a critic, Truffaut aimed to be behind the cameras.
“At first, I didn’t know whether I’d be a critic or a filmmaker, but I know I’d be something like that. I’d thought of writing, actually, and that I’d eventually become a writer. Then I decided I’d be a film critic. So I started to think, gradually, that I should make movies”.
His first experience behind the camera was the eight minute short film, Une visite, shot circa 1954/1955, followed by Les Mistons, in 1957.
In 1959, Les quatre cents coups was released, an immediate success that earned him the best director prize in Cannes. The film helped established the movement Nouvelle Vague and spread his innovative vision on cinema.
Two years prior, Jules et Jim was released, acclaimed as one of the classics of French cinema, confirming his talent and marking the beginning of a productive career.
Consecration in the Seventh Art
His film production slowed down in the mid-60s, while we was directing Farenheit 451 (1966) and working in a book about Alfred Hitchcock, one of his idols. The book was based in over 25 hours of interviews that Truffaut made to the British filmmaker.
In the late 60s and early 70s, he released a number of successful titles, namelyBaisers volés (1968) and Les deux anglaises et le continent (1971). Le Dernier Metro (1980) became one of his most awarded films, winning 10 César awards.
In 1974, Truffaut’s work was recognised in Hollywood. La nuit américaine (1973) won the Oscar of best foreign film.
Critic as an exercise
Truffaut recognised, in an interview, that his work as a director was influenced by his career as a film critic and by his incessant “obsession” in watching films.
“I think being a critic has helped me, because loving films or watching many of them is not even. Having to write about films helps understand them better. […] Critics are a good exercise, but you shouldn’t do it for too long.”
He published two books, which help get to know the man behind the camera better:Les Films de Ma Vie and Truffaut par Truffaut.
Truffaut starred, as an actor, in many of his movies, namely L'enfant sauvage (1970). The filmmaker also worked as an actor in Steven Spielberg’sClose Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
A little after finishing his last film, Vivement dimanche! (1983), Truffaut was diagnosed with brain cancer. The filmmaker passed away on the 21st of October, 1984, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
On the 6th of February, 2012, the day he would celebrate his 80th birthday, Google paid a tribute to Truffaut, including his main films.
François Truffaut and French Nouvelle Vague revolutionized film industry of the time and left their name in the history of culture. His contribute was immortalised in his films and his influence can still be felt in the world of the 7th Art.