Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cahiers and Truffaut : A Reconciliation

In the early Eighties at Cahiers French cinema became a renewed area of interest and this was celebrated in their two special 30th anniversary issues (May and June 1981). Through these issues Cahiers were able to strengthen their ties with the French film industry and its producers, directors and actors. Even though articles on Godard had already been a standard feature since Daney’s early editorship now finally the rest of the nouvelle vague directors would become a renewed area of interest for the magazine.
In 1980 Daney and Toubiana met Truffaut in an effort of reconciliation as he had been actively neglected from the magazine. They discussed the new philosophy of the magazine and requested help with financing that Truffaut would help to arrange. After their meeting Truffaut would say that he now had an ‘open neutrality’ towards Cahiers. As a result of this meeting, a lengthy interview with Truffaut would follow and would be published throughout two issues in 1980. It builds upon the two previous interviews with Truffaut. (This makes Truffaut the less interviewed nouvelle vague director. The other interviews include with Jean Collet, Michel Delahaye, Jean-André Fieschi from December 1962 and with Jean-Louis Comolli and Jean Narboni from 1967).
 The Événement film that sparked the encounters with Truffaut was Le Dernier Métro. The film was publicized on the magazine’s cover and a positive review, Une nuit au theatre by Yann Lardeau, was printed along with the interview. Truffaut, who represents French popular cinema, received an equal amount of attention as Godard.
The first part of the Truffaut interview by Daney, Narboni and Toubiana appeared in the September 1980 issue. The Événement was prefaced by Toubiana, Truffaut ou le juste milieu comme experience limite. The last interview the magazine had done with Truffaut was in 1967 (which was entitled, Le juste milieu) for Fahrenheit 451, and since then Truffaut made 13 more films.
Toubiana wrote,

There was thirteen years of silence or non-dialogue (there were some critiques of his films, but no interviews) between us and Truffaut because of our attachment to theory and our political chores. What we were looking for in the Seventies were what you could call limit experiences – far from the ‘juste milieu’ which preoccupied Truffaut.

Toubiana then argued that what Truffaut was doing at the juste milieu was a limit experience of the center of French society and film production. The extreme qualifier is that Truffaut was making the films that he wanted to make and he had the independence to make them through his own production company. It’s a paradoxical and contradictory proposition. Truffaut is not trying to distinguish himself from the other professionals in the French film industry but he’s not part of the Qualité française which he in the past denounced. Toubiana’s perspective offers a different way to look at Truffaut’s more conventional works. Cahiers was in perpetual evolution and it constantly tried to gaze beneath the surface of things.
In the interview Truffaut was very frank and modest. On his work as a director he said, “Finally, what makes me the happiest about cinema is that it gives me the best job possible.” “I don’t see an incompatibility between the terms auteur and professional.” “I work better with director-producers that work hard - Rohmer, Mocky, Berri – than with those that complain like spoiled children that deserve everything.” On Godard, who he thought was ‘compulsively jealous,’ Truffaut undermined his more high-minded statements by showing the simple, uncaring arguments behind them:

When Rivette received one of the largest advances on receipts - 200 million for four films - Godard went after him in Pariscope. ‘The pleasure of Rivette is the same as Verneuil but it’s not mine. Rivette has no longer any humanity.’ And then it was Rohmer’s turn when everyone admired La Marquise d’O, Godard criticized it. When Resnais won six or seven Césars for Providence, Jean-Luc, as you can expect, turned against him saying ‘Resnais hasn’t made any good films since Hiroshima.’

On his distancing himself from Cahiers, Truffaut said “I’ve stepped back from Cahiers since the day where I made my first film. I had the sense of changing camps [from critic to filmmaker].”
The interview with Truffaut signaled a major shift at Cahiers from Daney’s often enigmatic editorial stances to Toubiana’s more populist ones. Godard would not necessarily be dropped but he would no longer be as fetishized. Truffaut and other popular French directors would start to get equal coverage. Cahiers and Toubiana, drawing from Bazin, Truffaut, Hitchcock, and Chaplin, would show how strong personal art works could be created within the popular film industry.


Oriane Sidre said...

Hello David, thanks for sharing glimpses of your work. This confirms me that Godard was not very open to the success of its old friends !

I wonder if what is saying Toubiana about Truffaut's movies, "juste milieu", is the same idea as for the concept created by Pascale Ferran and others in the 2000s in France : "les films du milieu". Some directors considered that movies "du milieu", who have middle budget, a quite famous team, and an ambition different from experimental, marginal movies, or blockbusters, have became rare in the French industry.
Do you know this concept ? Here is a link :

David D. said...

Hey Oriane,

Thanks for commenting. The two concepts are probably a little similar. What Toubiana is arguing, I think, is that Truffaut at the center of French cinema was also a limit experience (though different than that of the political avant-garde) and that he was still an independent auteur at the center of French film production, which separates him from the Qualite Francaise, which he used to be against.