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.

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This Land is Mine

Jean Renoir’s This Land is Mine is a fairly unmemorable film with a nuanced and wonderful turn by Charles Laughton at its heart.  Taking place in a small French town during the Nazi Occupation during WWII, Laughton plays a timid, cowardly schoolteacher and mother’s boy who becomes split between collaboration with the Nazis and resistance.  The film’s conscience at its center is a fellow teacher played by Maureen O’Hara with whom Laughton’s character has a deep crush for.  While her fiancée collaborates with their Nazi oppressors, her brother is a dashing and charismatic figure in the Resistance.

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