It’s Time for Truffaut: An Interview with Arnaud Desplechin (Preview)
by Dudley Andrew and Anne Gillain
Both of us knew François Truffaut; his films and personality had changed our lives. Yet when asked to edit a Blackwell “Companion” devoted to him, we ruminated. Could we locate thirty contributors ready to reassess a director, twenty-eight years in the grave, whose films seem buried beneath those of newer auteurs and of the still accumulating filmography of his dark twin, Godard? What interest might he hold beyond his historical importance at the birth of the New Wave? Might his detractors have been right? Did this unquestionably brilliant and fiery critic expend his creativity as a director on those famous first features—Les 400 Coups (The 400 Blows, 1959), Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960), Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962)—after which, along with most of the New Wave, he receded into the sea of cinema-as-usual?
It was Arnaud Desplechin who shocked us to our senses: “Are you kidding?” he said. “The guy’s incredible as a filmmaker, just incredible. Every one of his films is vibrating with cinema.” And he demonstrated this, by going right at the most maligned of Truffaut’s movies: once at Yale with Fahrenheit 451, and another time at BAM with La Sirène du Mississippi (Mississippi Mermaid, 1969). Both these films contain sequences that inspired Desplechin with their vivid ingenuity, Truffaut setting himself impossible problems, then coming up with stunning solutions, and often doing so, you could tell, at the last minute, if you examined them closely enough…the way a filmmaker would.
That was all we needed to hear. We soon recruited our thirty contributors, and the films indeed inspired them. The Companion to François Truffaut is alive with new ideas, new discoveries, and new voices coming from France, Spain, Japan, Brazil, and Australia as well as the United States. The liveliest section by far is our long interview with Desplechin, some moments of which we are proud to publish here in Cineaste, whose readers—i.e., you—we know will appreciate the way one great director dives into the work of another.
This interview could only be lively, for it was conducted live in Paris over two long afternoons in late June 2010. Desplechin must have rescreened some of the films to gear himself up. We certainly did. But he hardly needed to prepare, such a memory he has for details, especially incongruous ones. What else would you expect from the auteur of My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument (1996), of Kings and Queen (2004), and of A Christmas Tale (2008)? Desplechin’s films, like Truffaut’s, overflow with cinematic ideas, more than can be taken in at one viewing. Yet both men are straightforward in the way they talk, write, and film. Both are obsessives when it comes to the cinema. Richard Brody used for his Godard biography the title that really applies to Truffaut, for whom “everything is cinema,” really it is. And that includes politics, which, under the intense light and drama of a cinematic stare, can be felt so deeply as to produce actual consequences. Truffaut never voted in an election. He was a purist. For him cinema was politics by other means.
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