Francois Truffaut comes to Beirut.
BEIRUT: In the second half of the 20th century, a good portion of the world had two ways of comprehending, or at least seeing, France.
For many in Africa, Asia and the Americas, "France" was a recently exited (or lingering) imperial power, whose thumbprints had been pressed into the political-administrative, economic and cultural lives of its former properties.
For others, not least those smeared in the imperial residue of the Anglo-Saxons, the period after World War II was a melange of images and conversations projected in cinemas. For years these cinematic exports weren't dominated by commercial cinema as understood in the U.S., but by the Nouvelle Vague (the New Wave).
France's great contribution to film history, the New Wave sprang from the imaginations of a relatively small group of auteur filmmakers bent on scrutinizing postwar France via the moving image. Many of them were friends and colleagues with a background in film criticism, notably the periodical "Cahiers du Cinema."
Some artists associated with the Nouvelle Vague have persisted in making films well past the millennium -- Alain Resnais, Agnes Varda and Jean-Luc Godard -- though, as you might expect, their late works bear little resemblance to what they made in the '50s and '60s.
Earlier this month, the U.S. National Society of Film Critics named Godard's "Goodbye to Language" the best film of 2014.
Among the more influential members of the French New Wave was Francois Truffaut (1932--1984).
Like many of his colleagues in the Nouvelle Vague, Truffaut once credited his cinema obsession to the flood of U.S. movies that swamped postwar France. It is appropriate, if ironic, then that many North Americans of a certain age and cultural refinement may recall Truffaut as the well-dressed foreigner who helps Richard Dreyfus keep his appointment with the aliens in Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Samples of Truffaut's oeuvre have seeped into Beirut's trough of cultural consumption, usually clustered within one of the New Wave screening cycles staged by Metropolis Cinema in the past decade. About time, then, that the country's sole art house theater host "Vivement Truffaut!"
This isn't a comprehensive retrospective of the 27 films Truffaut directed, let alone the 35 film-writing credits attributed to him. Still, "Vivement" offers a generous selection of 14 features that run the gamut from his directorial debut -- 1958's "The 400 Blows" (Les Quatre Cents Coups) -- to his finale -- "Confidentially Yours" (Vivement Dimanche!), from 1983.
The selection embraces both Truffaut's dramatic and comic voices, including such much-loved titles as "Jules et Jim" (1962), "Fahrenheit 451" (1966) (Truffaut's adaptation of Ray Bradbury's dystopian 1951 novel of the same name) and 1980's "The Last Metro." The film stars Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, who were among of the dozens of celebrity actors who queued up to work with Truffaut during his career.
At the same time, "Vivement" includes a number of less-familiar titles, seldom projected beyond the walls of Beirut film schools. This number includes "La Peau Douce" (1964), "The Man Who Loved Women" (1977), "The Bride Wore Black" (1968), starring Jeanne Moreau and Michel Bouquet, and "La Sirene du Mississipi" (1969), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve. The program also includes "La Nuit Americaine" (1973), Truffaut's famed film within a film, starring Jacqueline Bisset and Valentina Cortese.
It's not unusual for film retrospectives like this to supplement the works of the filmmaker with other works that help contextualize the artist's work. Regrettably, for those less familiar with Truffaut's oeuvre, "Vivement" doesn't include "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in the program.
Instead, organizers chose to project Emmanuel Laurent's "Two in the Wave," a documentary that scrutinizes the ups and downs in Truffaut's relationship with Jean-Luc Godard.
Fellow travelers in the Nouvelle Vague and contributors to critical magazines "Cahiers du Cinema" and "Cahiers d'Art," the two filmmakers supported one another throughout the '50s and '60s. Then in the late '60s, the two famously "broke up," with Godard pursuing a more politicized aesthetic while Truffaut continued making the genre-engaging dramedies that were becoming his trademark.
In an exchange of letters in 1973, Truffaut told Godard that "you're the Ursula Andress of militancy."
The remark was apparently not meant to be a compliment."Vivement Truffaut!" is up at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil from Jan. 25 to Feb. 6. Most, but not all, of the films promise to be subtitled in English.
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