Although Truffaut made two more films before dying way too young from cancer, The Last Metro is seen as his swan song. Combining his love of theater, film, stories of his childhood, and complicated human relationships,this film may say more about Truffaut as a person and an iconic director than anything he has done since Day for Night. Involving his ex mistress, Catherine Deneuve and her frequent co-star Gerard Depardieu, Truffaut crafted a film surrounding a theater company during Nazi-occupied France. Due to the regret and remorse over the role that France played during World War II (being a haven for Nazis and all), this was not popular subject matter. However Truffaut took the stance that we should not regret what happened to us in the past, we should just show it so that future generations can learn from it. That is exactly what he did with this film.
Following the pre production and production of the first play that the company puts on after the founder goes into hiding for being a Jew, the company has to deal with finding a lead, obtaining a permit, financial concerns that threaten to shut the doors everyday, and harsh reviews based solely on the founder’s ancestry and the director’s sexuality. All this to make a beautiful play to keep people’s minds away from the destruction and chaos surrounding them. Catherine Deneuve stars as Marion Steiner, the stage actress who is forced into the manager position after her husband goes into hiding underneath the theater itself. She deals with the many pressures of not only performing, but managing and keeping a very dangerous secret in ways that can seem to be very selfish and cold. Gerard Depardieu stars as the new lead. There is more to his character than just an actor. He is a resistance fighter who meets secretly with this shady man and plans a bombing in protest against the unlawful treatment of the citizens of France. In fact each person in the film is playing a part in resisting the Nazis and Vichy dictatorship. Some people resist the common thread by just being who they are (like being gay or bisexual), or by more overt options like hiding people or bombing popular places.
It has been difficult for me to construct this blog post and convey how I feel about this film. I think it is because I want to talk about so many different things, but I don’t know how exactly to word them, so I will revert to a dumb statement and say that this film is a masterpiece. It doesn’t judge any of the characters in any way. It just shows how different people can experience oppression in different ways which I found refreshing. Just because to us, the critic seems to be a villain because he collaborates with the Vichy government and he produces slander that airs on the radio stations every night and in the newspapers everyday, doesn’t mean that Truffaut necessarily sees him as a villain. It is just one way of coping. When people get scared, they justify any means to stay alive. Truffaut asserts this idea again and again throughout this film.
The look of this film is phenomenal. Purposely made to look like a theater set with flat buildings, fake cobblestone roads, and not natural lighting, the sets make the action feel even more real and relatable at least in a “what would I do in this situation” way. The sepia tones of the cinematography makes it feel dated without many other hints (of course besides costuming there are no other indicators of it being 1942). It also makes the film feel warm and inviting despite it being about a very serious time in France’s history.
I feel like this is a good film to end the trajectory of Truffaut’s film career on. I know by doing this I am willfully leaving out his last two films, but there are both hard to find and not reviewed very well. Instead I choose to remember Truffaut going out on a high note. This experience of watching Truffaut’s films felt very different from me watching Godard’s work. While even when I liked Godard’s stuff I still had to work hard to understand what he was going for, Truffaut is a more intuitive director. You know that he succeeded or failed at least in your mind by the time the time marker turns over to five minutes. It is kind of refreshing. I will miss you Truffaut. I will be moving onto someone one else next week. Stay tuned to find out who!