The Last Metro

The Last Metro

Francois Truffaut’s The Last Metro is a movie about our passions, for the people around us, the communities we build together, and the projects/desires that drive us.  Truffaut takes an almost broad capturing of the French theater scene in 1940’s Paris during the German occupation, using the historical setting for when a mechanical oppressor begins to infect and discourage the artistic passions that drive people.

Catherine Deneuve is heartbreaking and spectacular as Marion Steiner, an actress who takes over her husband’s theater company after her Jewish husband Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) is forced to flee the country once the Germans take over.  However, Lucas Steiner’s passion for his theater runs so deep that he never has the chance to flee but rather he is hidden in the basement underneath the theater.  Complications ensue when a busy-body theater critic threatens to take things over and Marion begins falling in love with their newest play’s womanizing lead Bernard Granger (played with effortless charm by Gerard Depardieu).

The romance between Bernard and Marion feels almost out of nowhere as the film comes down to its final act until you realize that the romance has developed right on stage without anyone’s notice, including the two players themselves.  It’s a subtle, interesting trick that Truffaut pulls off and it miraculously works as their passions for each other finally take them over.  That’s what the film is all about in the end and the film’s entire look and feel signals that fact.  From the oppressing use of reds throughout the film to the red, satin curtains of the stage to the set design of the night club and elaborate red dresses of Marion Steiner to the romantically lighted scenes of the troupe rehearsing the play, every decision Truffaut indicates an outward expression of love and fiery passion of the characters’ internal lives.

It’s a strikingly beautiful movie in that way and it’s hard not to fall in love with the film as it lovingly graces the screens with a gentle touch, showing a loving community of theater obsessives putting on the best show they know how.  Truffaut gives into a bit of cartoonish villainy with the French collaborator and drama critic, perhaps indicating a slight malice towards those in the critical profession.  He gets his own comeuppance in a cartoony epilogue scene that feels cut in from a completely different movie but the threat of the character’s presence does give the film a sense of forward momentum towards film’s end.

Truffaut has crafted a loving dedication towards the arts and those that show true passion for it.  Lucas Steiner sacrifices everything, including the love of his wife, just to be in proximity to the theater which he loves so dearly and one could imagine Truffaut feeling the same way for the cinema.  Even Bernard and Marion’s passionate romance is seen and developed through the prism of their passion for the theater.  The film is a love letter to all of those who love the beauty of artistic expression and Truffaut carries those themes in a lovingly entertaining movie and a delightful surprise from a filmmaker in the august years of his filmmaking career.

Repulsion

Repulsion

Catherine Deneuve gives a chilling performance as a mentally unstable woman slowly coming apart over a weekend spent alone in her sister’s apartment in Roman Polanski’s haunting second feature, Repulsion.  Right from the start, this is a film that shows a confidence that is shocking for a director so early in his career.  The title credit sequence truly sets the tone for the picture that follows with our young protagonist’s eyes darting back and forth as the credits scroll awkwardly across the screen.  This is a woman that is not mentally together and Polanski never pulls back the curtain on that.  He slowly reveals bits and pieces as we see a woman completely withdrawn from the world around her.

Once she is left finally alone in the apartment, the violent oppression that resides in her mind is finally allowed to burst through and the ensuing hour and a half is truly one of the most startling sections in film history and Deneuve delivers a truly disturbing performance as a woman who finally succumbs to something that Polanski refuses to share with his audience.

Polanski leaves it to the audience but leaves subtle clues and hints as if the film was a deep puzzle of the woman’s mind.  Pieces shattered left and right are strewn across the screen.  Is it a film about sexual repression?  Has she suffered sexual abuse?  What demons haunt this woman that rockets into an ultimately tragic conclusion?  These are questions that Polanski wants you to ask because the people in her life never seem to.  Treated as just an inward person, the people around her constantly baby and protect her, never probing for any deeper meaning despite her obvious mental anguish.

Polanski’s use of space and structure inside the sister’s apartment is astounding.  The filmmaker uses the set design and a claustrophobic shooting style to enclose the audience around our central character and to keep not just her disoriented but the audience as well.  Polanski wants the audience to feel that encroaching invisible menace that Deneuve perfectly encapsulates in her performance.  That fear is what drives the pictures most sinister moments such as when her “boyfriend” decides to drop by.  His love gets mistaken for aggression in one of the most disturbing scenes in the film because in her mind, she truly can’t tell the difference.

Repulsion is the probably one of the greatest cinematic representations of mental illness.  Polanski delightfully puts his audience in the mind space of someone whose repressions of deep, dark secrets slowly unravel her until it’s too late for anyone to do anything.  It’s a disturbing picture because Polanski gives us no real world character to hang on to that isn’t completely disposed of one way or another.  So when the film takes its dark turn and the character we have been following truly collapses and becomes her own villain, we as an audience can’t turn away and end up losing ourselves within the film.  It’s an ultimately upsetting picture that isn’t so much a thriller as it is a deeply disturbing horror film of the mind but Catherine Deneuve’s performance is so outstanding and engrossing, it’s difficult to look away.