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Last, First M. Book. City: Publisher, Year Published. Print.
James, Henry. The Ambassadors. Rockville: Serenity, 2009. Print.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1942. Print.
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Last, First M. Book. City: Publisher, Year Published. Website Title. Web. Day Month Year Accessed.
James, Henry. The Ambassadors. Rockville: Serenity, 2009. Google books. Web. 16 Mar. 2010. http://books.google.com
Bodnar, Kipp, and Jeffrey L. Cohen. The B2B Social Media Book. Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
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Last, First M. Book. City: Publisher, Year Published. Database Name. Web. Date Month Year Accessed.
Morem, Susan. 101 Tips for Graduates. New York: Ferguson, 2005. Infobase Publishing eBooks. Web. 16 Mar. 2010. http://www.infobasepublishing.com
Bloom, Harold, ed. Twentieth-Century British Poets. New York: Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2011. Infobase Publishing eBooks. Web. 21 Dec. 2012.
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This is the most complete Francois Truffaut biography available on the internet. We have broken it into chapters to make for easy reading, but if you think it would be easier to print, you can access a printer-friendly version here.
Francois Truffaut was born in Paris on February 6, 1932. His unmarried mother, Janine de Monferrand, was 19 at the time and from a respectable middle-class background. Truffaut never met his biological father, who, he discovered much later in life, was a Jewish dentist. Eighteen months later, Janine married Roland Truffaut, an architectural draughtsman, who accepted the boy as his son and gave him a surname. Roland’s great passion in life was mountaineering. Janine was more interested in books, the theatre, cinema and romance. Francois was not allowed to disrupt their life and until the age of 10 was brought up mainly by his maternal grandmother. It was only when she died that he went to live with his parents for the first time.
Francois’ new life with his parents did not give him the love and support he craved. They repeatedly left him alone at weekends and even at Christmas. His mother, in particular, found his presence in their cramped apartment distracting, and he was forced to sit quietly reading a book for fear of disturbing her. When he discovered the truth about his father, his relationship with his mother became even more strained. He would often stay with friends and try to be out of the house as much as possible. Truffaut spent much of his time with his closest friend Robert Lacheney, often staying overnight at the Lacheney family apartment.
It was the cinema that offered him the greatest escape from an unsatisfying home life. His obsession began at eight years old when he saw his first movie, Abel Gance's Paradis perdu. As he got older he truanted frequently, sneaking into theatres because he didn't have enough money for admission. The cinema became both a refuge and an alternative schoolroom. At the age of fourteen, after being excluded from school, he decided to be self taught. Among his academic "goals" were to watch three movies a day and read three books a week.
By the time he became a teenager, Truffaut was already a serious student of cinema, creating folders for his favourite filmmakers in which he filed away articles clipped from newspapers and movie magazines. He impressed his friends with his many feats of knowledge and was looked upon as a “living cinematheque.” His erudition was primarily the result of dedicated movie attendance at cinemas and film clubs. There were over four hundred movie houses in post-war Paris; two hundred of these were around the Truffaut apartment. The post-war years were also the golden age of the film society and Truffaut wasted no time in becoming part of the movement. “I was fanatic about joining,” he said, “I had this compulsion to join and become part of these places where films were programmed, presented and discussed.”
It was at these clubs, such as the Delta, which presented French movies of the thirties by directors such as Jean Renoir and Sacha Guitry, that Truffaut learnt to analyse the aesthetics of cinema in depth. The greatest film-school of all was Henri Langlois' Cinematheque Francaise where he was exposed to the widest range of cinema from silent classics to countless foreign films from around the world. It was here that he first fell in love with American cinema and the work of such directors as Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, and Alfred Hitchcock.
After starting his own cinema club, Cercle Cinemane (the Movie Mania Club) in 1948, Truffaut met Andre Bazin who would have a great impact on his professional and personal life. Bazin was a brilliant critic and the head of another cinema society at the time. He became a friend and mentor to Truffaut and would help him out of various financial and criminal situations in the coming years.
But Bazin was unable to help Truffaut when he was caught stealing a typewriter from his father’s offices and forging payslips in a desperate effort to keep the Cercle Cinemane going. A furious Roland Truffaut, informed of his son’s debts, forced Francois to sign a confession. He then took him to the police station, where he requested that his son be placed in a reform school for delinquents.
In all, Francois spent three months in the Paris Observation Centre for Minors in Villejuif, most of the time in solitary confinement. The Observation Centre was a big grey building protected from the outside by tall dark walls. The classrooms, refectory, and dormitory were all kept under surveillance, and corporal punishments, as well as psychological humiliations, were applied when deemed appropriate. To make matters worse, blood tests made several days after Truffaut’s arrival, showed he had syphilis – probably contracted from a prostitute. Treatment consisted of seven injections a day, every three hours, starting at six o’clock in the morning.
Truffaut did have some consolations during his detention. The director of the Centre grew fond of him, in spite of his misdeeds, and brought him a regular supply of newspapers and movie magazines. His psychologist also interceded on his behalf, writing to Andre Bazin and requesting his help in getting Francois an early release. Bazin agreed to vouch for Francois, promising to find him a job when he was released. Thanks to these guarantees, the judge decided to place the teenager in a religious home in Versailles three months before his scheduled release.
When the prodigal son returned home from the hostel, relations with his parents, particularly his mother, were, if anything more strained than they had been before. Bazin had not forgotten his promise to find work for his young protege, appointing Truffaut as his personal secretary. With the money he made from this new appointment, Francois was able to move out into his own apartment, a small rented room on the fifth floor of a building on rue des Martyrs.
A Student of Cinema
Thanks to Bazin, Truffaut attended meetings of the film society Objectif 49. Founded by advocates of the new criticism such as Bazin himself, Alexandre Astruc, Pierre Kast, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and Claude Mauriac, and sponsored by such established figures as Jean Cocteau, Robert Bresson, Rene Clement, and Roger Leenhardt. The society became the forum of the new criticism. Its screenings were packed, and important filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini, Orson Welles, William Wyler, Preston Sturges and Jean Gremillon, came to present their work. Emboldened by their success, the organizers decided to create a festival.
The first festival took place in late July 1949 in Biarritz. While there, the penniless Truffaut stayed at the Biarritz Lycee dormitory where he met Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol for the first time. The young cinephiles stayed up late into the night discussing their favourite directors and actors and pouring scorn on the older generation.
When he returned to Paris in the late summer of 1949, Truffaut began his most intense period as a film enthusiast. His loneliness and troubles were over; he was now part of a group. Others joined those from the Biarritz dormitory – Jean-Luc Godard, Suzanne Schiffman, Jean Gruault, Paul Gegauff, Jean-Marie Straub, amongst others. They assembled at the weekly screenings of the main Paris film societies. Another new friend was Eric Rohmer, organizer of the Cine-Club du Quartier Latin.
It was at a screening at the Cinematheque Francais, that Truffaut first met Liliane Litvin. Liliane was an unconventionally beautiful young woman, so beautiful that Truffaut had to compete for her attention with his friends Jean Gruault and Jean-Luc Godard. Each tried to win her affection by spiking their conversation with literary references, but she gave herself to none of them. Undeterred, Truffaut eventually installed himself in a hotel across the street from the Litvin family apartment.
It was with the intention of impressing Liliane that Truffaut started going to the Club du Faubourg, a meeting place for the intelligentsia, which welcomed inquisitive minds, enthusiasts, journalists and the Paris smart set, three times a week to meet and discuss recent shows, books, and social issues. Through friends he made at the club, he secured his first assignments as a journalist at Elle magazine.
Despite the more exciting lifestyle and increased income that came with his new occupation, Truffaut soon became weary with the superficiality of the kind of journalism he was writing. He was also drained by his unrequited passion for Liliane. On July 4th, he attended her 18th birthday party, which turned into a farcical scene of intrigue, as her various suitors fought for her attention. For the frustrated Truffaut, the evening ended with a failed suicide attempt. A few weeks later he decided to try and forget Liliane by joining the army.
A Rash Decision
Within days, Truffaut was regretting his decision. He had enlisted for a three year term in the artillery, which would entail time months of basic training in the army barracks in Coblenz, Germany, followed by a tour of duty spent fighting the war in Indochina.
During his training Francois spent much time in the infirmary suffering from sinus and hearing problems, but by May 1951, he was pronounced fit for duty by the military physician, and his departure for Saigon was set for July 14th. While on leave in Paris, he made up his mind to desert. After two weeks staying with various friends, Bazin convinced him to give himself up to the authorities. He was charged with illegal absenteeism and sent to prison, where he spent a month in hospital being treated for another bout of syphilis.
Following his cure, he was returned to Coblenz and locked up in the disciplinary area. It was a wretched time in which Truffaut again attempted suicide. This attempt landed him in the Andernach hospital neuropsychiatric unit. Truffaut spent a month and half there watched over by unsympathetic male nurses. On November 27 1951 he was released and sent back to the barracks.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Andre Bazin tried to rescue Truffaut from his plight. His appeals to the military authorities were fruitless. It was only when he enlisted the support of influential friends that Truffaut was brought before the board. After a two hour hearing before his superiors, he was finally given a temporary discharge.
Free at last, Truffaut, now twenty years old, returned to live in Paris where he lived in the attic room above the Bazin family apartment. While holding down a series of short term jobs, he set himself the objective of writing for Cahiers du cinema, the magazine founded by Jacques Doinel-Valcroze and Andre Bazin. A long article he wrote over the course of the next year entitled ‘A Certain Tendency in French Cinema’ proved the key to getting him published in the magazine and establishing his reputation.
Eventually published in Cahiers in January 1954, it had an immediate and widespread impact. The targets of Truffaut’s criticism were the most widely known French directors and screenwriters of the day. They were the ones most responsible for what Truffaut labelled the ‘tradition of quality’ and the vogue for psychological realism. He accused them of being anti-clerical, blasphemous, sarcastic and bent on deceiving their public. Their movies were, he suggested, artificial and unnatural, and marred by ‘literary’ dialogue, an overuse of studio sets and excessively polished photography. Their psychological realism was, Truffaut bluntly declared, neither real nor psychological.
Between March 1953 and November 1959, Truffaut published 170 articles in Cahiers, mostly film reviews of five to six typewritten pages, or interviews with directors. His writing was forthright, focused and opinionated. He was at the centre of a group of young critics at Cahiers whom Andre Bazin nicknamed the ‘Hitchcocko-Hawksians’, in reference to their two favourite directors. Other members of the group were Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jean-Luc Godard, who, together, would go on to form the core of the French New Wave.
After the publication of ‘A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema’, Truffaut was in great demand from other publications. Principally among these was the right wing Arts-Lettres-Spectacles for whom he wrote 528 articles over five years. A film a day, an article every other day, this was the pace the young man kept up, working every night, fuelled by cigarettes and coffee. His critical judgements also made him some enemies amongst those targeted. Amongst left-wing intellectuals, he was considered a reactionary who valued aesthetics over content.
Behind the Lens
Though a successful critic, Truffaut nurtured the desire to become a director. His first effort, in 1954, was an 8 minute short, Une visite, shot in Jacques Doinel-Valcroze’s apartment, with Jacques Rivette as cameraman, and Robert Lachenay as an assistant. The story was about a young man who moves in to share a flat with a young woman and makes an unsuccessful pass at her. Truffaut used the film as a training exercise and did not think it worthy of distribution.
Francois Truffaut’s next venture into filmmaking largely came about as the result of his meeting Madeleine Morgenstern at the Venice Film Festival in 1956. Madeleine was the daughter of Ignace Morgenstern, managing director of one of France’s largest media distribution companies. Francois had chosen a story entitled Les Mistonsby Maurice Pons which he wanted to adapt into a film. Madeleine asked her father to help in funding the project. He passed the job to his colleague Marcel Berbert, but more importantly insisted that a company be created to receive money and manage production of the film. Truffaut named the company ‘Films du Carrosse’ after Jean Renoir’s film Le Carrosse d’or. Having his own production company was to become crucially important to Truffaut, ensuring an almost unique independence throughout his directorial career.
Filming onLes Mistons began in Nimes on 2 August 1957 and continued throughout August with a small team and a modest budget. The actors were Gerard Blain and Bernadette Lafont. The story, which takes place in provincial France, is about a group of young boys (“mistons” roughly translates as “brats”), who are infatuated with a beautiful young woman. Jealous of her passionate affair with her boyfriend, they make mischief for the two of them.
Although only 20 minutes long, Les Mistonsfeatured many of the themes that Truffaut would return to again and again in his movies: love, children, writing and death. Although the story is simple, Truffaut’s skill as a filmmaker is already apparent. His use of composition, lighting, music and setting, combine to create a satisfying narrative whose episodic structure perfectly conveys the underlying motifs and emotions.
The film was first shown in November and won the Best Director prize at the Brussels World Film Festival. Meanwhile Francois and Madeleine Morgenstern had fallen in love during filming and that autumn they were married. At twenty-five, Truffaut had finally settled down. The couple moved into the apartment that Ignace Morgenstern had bought for his daughter on run Saint-Ferdinand. The three-room apartment was comfortable and tastefully furnished, and, most importantly, finally allowed Truffaut space for all the books and files he had accumulated since childhood.
In May 1958, Truffaut went to the Cannes Film Festival as a critic for the last time. The previous year he had published a particularly virulent argument in Arts accusing the French film industry of producing “too many mediocre films” and described Cannes as a “failure dominated by compromises, schemes and faux pas.” In retaliation, the festival directors had refused to accredit him as a journalist, although he attended anyway.
In the same article he wrote: “The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure.” Truffaut would soon have the opportunity to put his theories into practice. The success of Les Mistons brought him recognition, and, although his father-in-law had not particularly liked the film, he admired Francois’ talent and judgement, and put up money for a feature.
The 400 Blows
In collaboration with Marcel Moussey, an experienced writer, Truffaut wrote a screenplay based on his own childhood experiences that he called Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows) . The episodic story follows the adventures of thirteen year old Antoine Doinel, through his trouble-making in school, his unhappy home life, various escapades he gets up to while playing truant, and finally his confinement and then escape from reform school.
With the screenplay complete Truffaut set about hiring cast and crew. He decided to shoot in black-and-white Cinemascope and to invest a large part of the film’s modest budget in recruiting one of the best cinematographers around, Henri Decae, who had worked with Jean-Pierre Melville, Louis Malle and Claude Chabrol.The hardest challenge was finding a child actor to play Antoine Doinel. Several hundred children were auditioned before the thirteen-year-old Jean-Pierre Leaud was chosen. His spirited and spontaneous screen test, as well as his close resemblance to Truffaut at the same age, made him the natural and definitive choice for the part.
Filming began on November 10th, 1958. That night Andre Bazin died of leukaemia. Truffaut rushed over to the Bazin apartment at the end of the day and spent the night with the family, before returning the next day to resume filming. On November 16th, the day of the funeral, he wore a black suit while directing. Ultimately he would dedicate his film “to the memory of Andre Bazin.”
Filming was completed on January 5th, 1959. A couple of weeks later, Madeleine Truffaut gave birth to a little girl who they named Laura. Editing of the film was complete within a couple of months and early test screenings were enthusiastic, so much so in fact, that the film was included as one of the official French entries to Cannes.
Les Quatre cents coupswas widely acclaimed on its release, winning numerous awards, including the Best Director Award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. The film’s success helped to establish the French New Wave Movement on the world stage and opened the door for other directors to reach a wider audience. Its freewheeling style, at the same time both realistic and lyrical, would become characteristic of Truffaut’s work, and it’s themes – the need to belong and the search for love – would surface again and again in his later films.
With success, however, also came hostility. Some criticized him for becoming what he had previously fought against. Once critic wrote: “He let himself be dressed in a tuxedo, he let himself be swallowed up by the big buttering-up factory. Tossed in granulated sugar, tamed and sweetened, what will be left of the former Truffaut?” Others accused him of being an arriviste consumed with ambition, who had married the daughter of his worst enemy in order to get financing. His parents too, perhaps unsurprisingly, were hurt by the way they had been portrayed and wrote him a letter demanding an explanation. He wrote them back a long confessional letter full of detailed memories of his unhappy childhood to justify the film.
The success ofLes Quatre cents coupschanged Truffaut’s way of life. He could now afford a larger apartment in a more fashionable area of Paris, expensive clothes, a sports car, and an expanding collection of records and books. He was also able to help his friends Jacques Rivette, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude de Givray make their first films. Additionally, interest in the film from abroad gave him the opportunity to travel. In New York he was awarded the city’s Critics Award for Best Foreign Film and became friends with Helen Scott, press officer at the French Film Office, who would become a close collaborator and confident.
As the acclaim died down, Truffaut was eager to begin work on his next film. He decided to adapt American noir writer David Goodis’s novel, Down There, which had been published in France under the title Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player). The story, which concerns a melancholy piano player in a late night bar with a secret past who gets mixed up with gangsters, appealed to Truffaut on several levels. Here was a chance to make his own film noir like those he had spent so many years watching and discusssing. At the same time, the story explored classic Truffautesque themes, such as the elation and despair of love, the difficulty of communication, the resilience of children. There is also more than a little resemblance between Truffaut and the main character Charlie, and between Truffaut and Charles Aznavour, the actor who played him in the film. Both are shy men with troubling pasts who are drawn to women but find it hard to talk to them, and both have tasted early success which they suspect may owe more to the influence of others than their own talent.
Tirez sur le pianiste was perhaps the most experimental and New Wave of all Truffaut’s films. Having realised half way through filming that he hated gangsters, Truffaut set about subverting the genre. There are constant changes of pace and mood. Extended voice-overs, out-of-sequence shots and sudden jump cuts disrupt the action. As Godard had done in A Bout de souffle, Truffaut seems to be asking the question “What is cinema?” Unfortunately such a challenging film proved too great for contemporary audiences and it performed poorly at the box office.
In 1960, in large part due to events connected with the Algerian war, Francois Truffaut started to move to the left ideologically. The De Gaulle government’s use of torture against the Algerian liberation movement known as the FLN, and the erosion of basic liberties in France because of the war, convinced him to take a public position. This he did by signing the “Manifesto of the 121” – so named because of the 121 artists, writers and academics who first signed it. The manifesto denounced torture, rejected the army’s actions, demanded freedom of expression, and supported deserters. As far as the government, the army, and much of public opinion were concerned, the declaration was treasonous, and those who had signed were put on a blacklist and banned from working. Truffaut was summoned to police headquarters, but thanks to campaigns in the French and international press, the sanctions against himself and the other signers of the manifesto were soon lifted.
For his next film, Truffaut turned to a project he had been preparing for some time: an adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roche’s novel Jules et Jim. He had first come across the book during the mid 1950s whilst browsing through some second-hand books and later befriended the elderly author. The story, which takes place in the belle epoque period in Paris, is about close friends Jules and Jim, who both fall in love with the beautiful, free spirited Catherine.
Working with Jean Gruault, a writer he admired, Truffaut finally got a screenplay that he was happy with, and then quickly assembled a team. Many of the crew from Tirez sur le painiste were hired again, creating the “family” atmosphere that Truffaut preferred on set. He chose Henri Serre to portray Jim; a young, as yet unknown actor who was performing in a comedy duo at the time, and who resembled Roche in both looks and manner. In the role of Jules, he cast Oskar Werner, an acclaimed stage actor in Germany and Austria who had yet to make an impact on screen. However, the real star of the film was Jeanne Moreau, who was born to play the enigmatic Catherine.
Truffaut had first become friendly with Jeanne Moreau some years before at Cannes in 1957. He was fascinated by her, partly because she was a major star, and partly because of her sense of freedom and love of life. In the months leading up production, Truffaut spent much time at Moreau’s house where he enjoyed some of the happiest days of his life. Their close bond developed into a passionate, if brief, love affair, which, by the end of filming, had evolved into an enduring friendship. “Jeanne Moreau gave me courage each time I had doubts,” Truffaut later wrote. “Her qualities as an actress and as a woman made Catherine real before our eyes, made her plausible, crazy, possessive, passionate, but above all adorable.”
Truffaut was much encouraged by the first private screenings of Jules et Jimbefore its official release. Among those singing its praises was Jean Renoir, who wrote him a long letter from Hollywood. The critics echoed the positive response. “A Celebration of Tenderness and Intelligence”, was the headline in one paper. The film proved popular with audiences too, despite an 18 certificate. After its French opening, Truffaut travelled widely abroad to promote the film, which continued to receive a warm reception wherever it played.
Earlier in 1961, Truffaut accepted a commission to direct a short film for producer Pierre Roustang, which was to be presented with four others in a compilation entitled L’Amour à vingt ans. He decided to use the opportunity to continue the adventures of Antoine Doinel, drawing on his own youthful memories for the story, in particular his thwarted love for Liliane Litvin. Shot quickly in January 1962 and again staring Jean-Pierre Leaud, Antoine et Colette is both a bittersweet coming of age story and a vivid evocation of Paris in the early 1960s.
By 1962 there was a crisis of confidence in French cinema. Attendance at movie houses had dropped sharply and the euphoria of the New Wave had all but disappeared with the once unified movement, now fragmented by rivalries. Some critics blamed the “over-intellectual” films of the New Wave for falling audience figures. Symptomatic of the crisis was a conflict in which Truffaut himself was involved. His friend Jean Aurel had begun directing a film starring Brigitte Bardot, when, after only three days of shooting, the producers brought in Roger Vadim, Bardot’s ex-husband, to supervise the filming. Aurel walked off the set denouncing the behaviour of Vadim and Bardot. Truffaut, siding with his friend, wrote an article exposing the situation. Vadim counterattacked by taking Truffaut to court for libel.
The affair led to a sensational trial that began in January 1962 in Paris. In Vadim’s camp were Louis Malle, Michel Subor, and Brigitte Bardot. In the Truffaut camp were Alain Resnais, Melville, Godard, Chabrol and Kast. In the end the judge ruled in favour of Vadim and sentenced Truffaut to pay him one franc in damages. The large-circulation papers called it the “death of the New Wave”. Thanks to the success of Jules et Jim, however, Truffaut was able to escape the malaise, but other directors struggled, something he felt guilty about. He had already been forced to abandon plans to produce the films of a number of proteges through Carrosse, after the first few productions had failed and nearly dragged the company down with them.
Shortly after the trial Truffaut visited New York, where he first had the idea of a comprehensive analysis of the work of Alfred Hitchcock. He approached Helen Scott to work as an interpreter and wrote to Hitchcock with a proposal for a series of interviews covering his entire career. The great director agreed and later that year the interviews took place over several days in Hitchcock’s bungalow at Universal Studios. The book was eventually published in 1966 and was a critical and popular success.
The influence of Hitchcock was clearly evident in the next three films Truffaut directed beginning with La Peau douce (Soft Skin, 1964). Drawing inspiration from true stories of adultery and murder that had recently been in the news and reflecting Truffaut’s own views on the hypocrisy of married life, La Peau douce tells the story of a celebrated academic who has a secret affair with an air hostess. When the academic’s wife finds out about the truth, she shoots him dead in a crowded restaurant.
Featuring outstanding performances from Jean Desailly, Nelly Benedetti and Francoise Dorleac, La Peau douce was a bleak but expertly crafted drama. Deliberately unromantic, the tone reflects Truffaut’s desire to tell a “truly modern love story, that takes place in planes, elevators, and has all the harassments of modern life.”
Soon after the film’s release, Truffaut’s own life entered a period of turmoil. Early in 1965, Madeleine asked for a divorce. They had already separated several years before on Truffaut’s instigation but had reunited largely for the sake of their two daughters, Laura and Eva. Now, largely as a result of Truffaut’s numerous affairs, most recently with Francois Dorleac, Madeleine had had enough. Despite the separation, however, they would remain friends.
Le Peau douce’s disappointing performance at the box office meant that Truffaut needed to start work on a new film. He was offered the chance to direct Bonnie and Clyde by its two American writers and worked on the screenplay for a while, before turning it down in favour of an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, a project he had been developing for several years already, but which had been delayed because of its high cost and casting difficulties.
The story of a futuristic society where books have been banned was bound to appeal to a book lover like Truffaut. In addition, the action-based plot was an opportunity for him to emphasize visual storytelling in the footsteps of the silent movie directors he so admired. A number of actors were in the frame to play Montag, the fireman who begins as a book burner but later becomes a book preserver, including Paul Newman, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Terence Stamp. Eventually Oskar Werner was chosen at the last minute opposite Julie Christie as both his wife and the heroine Clarissa. The film was shot in England in colour with a mainly English crew but was not a happy experience for Truffaut who was frustrated by his inability to speak English and the daunting scale of the project. The film was well received at the Venice Film Festival in 1966, but fared badly at the box office.
Once again Truffaut needed a hit to restore his company’s fortunes. He chose to adapt Cornell Woolrich’s noir novel The Bride Wore Black as a vehicle for Jeanne Moreau who would play the wronged bride whose husband is shot and killed on the steps of the church where they have just been married. Again the shoot proved difficult. Truffaut and his long-time cinematographer Raoul Coutard argued about lighting and composition (this would be their last collaboration). Truffaut later regretted shooting in colour “which robbed the story of all mystery”. Nevertheless the film was well received by the public who enjoyed the film’s Hitchcockian suspense and dark humour.
Back Where It All Began
In 1968, Truffaut made his next foray into the life of his alter ego Antoine Doinel. Entitled Baisers voles(Stolen Kisses) in honour of the song by Charles Trenet, the story follows Antoine through a succession of jobs, including private detective, and the romantic intrigues he encounters along the way. As Truffaut wrote, ‘we stuffed the film full of all sorts of things linked to the theme which Balzac called “a start in life.” Light-hearted, comic and charming, the film was a surprise hit on its release.
One of the last shots on Baisers voles was filmed in front of the locked gates of the Cinematheque Francais and the film was dedicated to Henri Langlois. Throughout much of the filming, Truffaut had been campaigning on behalf of Langlois and the Cinematheque, which was under threat from government ministers who wanted to remove Henri Langlois, the founder and director, and replace him with someone of their own choosing. Truffaut, Godard, Rivette, Chabrol, and many other leading names in French cinema, including Jean Renoir and Jacques Tati mobilised in support of Langlois, banning their work from being screened at the Cinematheque until such time as Langlois was reinstated. Others followed suit, including major foreign directors such as Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Lang, Akira Kurosawa and Carl Dreyer.
On February 12, Truffaut and two to three hundred other directors, actors and film enthusiasts took their action further, blocking the Cinematheque screening room. Two days later three thousand reassembled in front of the building and were charged by police and security forces. Thanks to this demonstration, public opinion took up the cause of Langlois’s defenders and the government partially backed down. The Langlois supporters, however, kept up the pressure, with Truffaut initiating the setting up of a “committee for the defence of the Cinematheque Francaise.” On April 22, 1968, Langlois was unanimously re-elected to his duties as artistic and technical director.
The ‘Langlois Affair’ was a rejuvenating experience for Truffaut. He lived through the period in a fever of enthusiasm, surviving on only a few hours sleep each night, and dividing his time between filming and activism. But these events were not the only cause for Truffaut’s sense of elation in the spring of 1968. He had also fallen in love with Claude Jade, the twenty-year-old actress who had starred in Baisers voles. That spring, they made plans to marry. By May, however, he had broken it off, suddenly aware of the generation gap between the two of them and their very different outlooks on life.
Meanwhile, through a private detective firm he discovered the identity of his biological father. This turned out to be one Roland Levy, a Jewish dentist. Although Truffaut decided not to make contact with his father, the discovery that his father was Jewish came as a revelation to him. He believed it explained certain aspects of his character, such as "his sympathy for outcasts, martyrs, and those living on the fringes of society". The emotional upheaval of the discovery was exacerbated by his mother’s sudden death in August 1968.
Innocence and Experience
The unexpected success of Baisers voles allowed Truffaut to go into production on a more ambitious film. La Sirene du Mississippi (Mississippi Mermaid, 1969) was based on another Cornel Woolrich novel Waltz into Darkness about a rich plantation owner and his mysterious bride. Truffaut transposed the action from New Orleans to the French colonial Reunion Island off the coast of Africa. The two lead roles were taken by the then two biggest names in French cinema: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve. For once, both would be playing against their established screen personae.
Filming began at the start of December 1968 on Reunion Island, then moved on at the end of the month to the South of France, and finally to the Chartreuse mountain range. Initially apprehensive about working with Catherine Deneuve, Truffaut’s fears were soon allayed as he found her focused and sympathetic. By the end of the shoot they were having an affair. He described himself to a friend as “the happiest man on earth.” Nobody knew about the relationship outside of the cast and crew of the film, a state of affairs, which continued on their return to Paris where they lead a discreet life together, shared with only a few close friends.
La Sirene du Mississippi received a mixed reception on its release. While some admired the combination of thriller plot twists and picturesque romance, most critics were disappointed. One wrote: “It’s the metamorphosis of Shoot the Piano Player into an ultraposh boutique product. Ideal colours and international stars. I miss the old film, the poor one, in black and white. For these stars, in point of fact, are an encumbrance...” The public agreed and the film was soon pulled from theatres.
By the time the disappointing audience figures became apparent, Truffaut was already immersed in the preproduction of his next movie, L’Enfant sauvage (The Wild Child, 1970). The idea for a film based on the true story of a boy found living wild in the woods around Aveyron in 1798, had been in Truffaut’s plans for some time, and reflected his longstanding interest in the welfare and education of children. Financing wasn’t easy, but in the end United Artists backed the project. After much consideration, Truffaut cast himself as Dr Itard, the dedicated educator who teaches the child to walk, dress, sleep, eat, and eventually, to talk and communicate. Shooting took place over the summer of 1969. It was Truffaut’s first collaboration with cinematographer Nestor Almendros, a highly productive partnership that would continue for a further nine films.
Truffaut considered L’Enfant sauvage too austere and uncompromising to interest the wider public, so he was surprised when it became a success at the box office. The critics too unanimously praised the film. It provoked much debate in France and elsewhere, inspiring more than 150 articles in the press. Truffaut appeared on numerous radio and television programs to discuss issues raised by the film and received a flood of letters, many from teachers and high school students, wanting to share their own experiences.
Before L’Enfant sauvage was even released, Truffaut was in the streets of Paris filming Domicile conjugal (Bed and Board), the third instalment in the adventures of Antoine Doinel. Antoine is now married to Christine and living with her in a small apartment. Their daily routine involves meals with her parents, conversations in bed and amusing encounters with the various oddball characters who occupy the same block of flats. They are, on the whole, happy, until Antoine has an affair with a Japanese girl he meets at work. Although on the surface a light-hearted and inconsequential work, Truffaut put much of his own life experiences, especially his marriage to Madeleine, into Domicile conjugal. Once again the “Doinel” combination of screwball comedy and romantic entanglements proved popular with audiences.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Francois Truffaut was securely established internationally as one of the few “art film” directors whose work crossed over to a wider public. He contributed to his success by travelling abroad with each of his films, charming interviewers with his thoughtful air and his ability to make each journalist he spoke to feel like he was their best friend. At home, he was a major cultural figure who appeared regularly on television and radio. As a public personality, he was often asked to take a position regarding important political issues but in most cases refused to take sides with either the left or right. As he put it, “life is neither Nazi, Communist, nor Gaullist, it is anarchistic.”
With the success of his two previous films, Truffaut should have been on a roll, however after making four films in just over two years he was mentally and physically exhausted. This, combined with the break-up of his relationship with Catherine Deneuve in the autumn of 1970, lead to a period of severe depression. For some months he retreated to a hotel room and spent days alone there without leaving, unable to sleep. Eventually a doctor prescribed sleeping pills and persuaded him to take a ten day sleeping cure.
During this dark time, Truffaut found solace in Henri-Pierre Roche’s novel Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent(The Two English Girls and the Continent). Giving up plans to take a sabbatical year off, he decided instead that work was his best hope of recovery, and he set about adapting the work for the screen. Based on the director’s reputation financing came easily and by the spring of 1971 preproduction was already underway. Jean-Pierre Leaud was cast as the Claude, the young Frenchman who falls in love with the two sisters, Anne and Muriel Brown. Filming took place in May and June, mostly on location on the Normandy coast.
The production of the film went well and by the time of the first screening Truffaut felt he had made his masterpiece. Thanks to the support of friends, and his immersion in work, he had regained his self-confidence. Filmmaking turned out to be the most effective way for him to chase away his “dark thoughts” and to sleep “without sleeping pills”. Les Deux Anglaises was released in November 1971 and received mixed reviews from critics. Some felt the film was too cold and objected to its sometimes graphic physicality such as the shot of bloodstained sheets following the deflowering of Muriel. The film was received more sympathetically abroad and its reputation has grown over time.
With scarcely a pause for breath, Truffaut turned to his next project, a zany comedy titled Une belle fille comme moi (Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me). Bernadette Lafont starred as a crafty murderess who uses her feminine wiles to trap men into helping her out of a series of scrapes. Although benefiting from a spirited performance from Lafont and a racy score from Georges Delerue, the film was disliked by both critics and audiences and quickly disappeared from screens.
"Cinema Is More Important Than Life"
While editing Les Deux Anglaises at the Victorine Studios in Nice, Truffaut had become intrigued by a huge set that had been erected several years earlier, consisting of several building facades, a subway entrance, and a Paris sidewalk cafe. He had long wanted to make a film about filmmaking, and this, he felt, would make for the perfect backdrop. He began work on a scenario with Jean-Louis Richard in the summer of 1971 and returned to it after completing filming on Une belle fille come moi. Shooting on La Nuit Americaine (Day for Night) began at the Victorine Studios in September 1972, with Jean-Pierre Aumont, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Nathalie Baye and Truffaut himself in the cast.
Appropriately for a film named after a technical term for night scenes shot in daylight with a special filter, La Nuit Americaine (Day For Night) was a fascinating insight into the reality behind the artifice of moviemaking. Like a conjuror revealing the secrets behind his magic, Truffaut disclosed the tricks of the filmmaker’s trade. Day for Night was embraced enthusiastically by critics and public alike. It won the 1974 BAFTA Award for Best Film and received four Academy Award nominations, eventually taking home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Not everybody, however, admired Day for Night. Jean-Luc Godard was exasperated by the film and wrote Truffaut a contemptuous letter in which he called him “a liar” and condemned “the absence of a critical view” in the film. He argued that Truffaut should finance his next project, Un simple film, “so that audiences don’t think the only kind of movies being made are your kind.” Truffaut wrote back a fierce response that ran to twenty pages. In it he denounced Godard’s lies, his superior tone, his “knack for passing himself off as a victim... whereas in fact you’ve always managed to do exactly what you wanted, when you wanted, as you wanted, and have always managed, above all, to maintain the pure, hard-line image you’ve cultivated, even at the expense of defenceless people...” At the end, he suggests they might discuss their differences. However the break-up was irrevocable and they never spoke again. The friendship and camaraderie at the heart of the New Wave was over forever.
The success of Day for Night allowed Truffaut the freedom to take some time off from movie-making. He rented a large new apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower and spent a lot of time with his two daughters, Laura and Eva. He avoided social events, preferring to spend his evenings at home with a female companion or watching TV. During this two year sabbatical he spent as much time as he possible could abroad, living in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills hotel in the summer of 1973. Here he studied English with Michel Thomas, watched coverage of the Watergate affair, and visited friends like Jean Renoir. His recent Oscar success put him among a select group of foreign directors now considered a dependable box-office draw and he received a number of offers from Hollywood to direct English-language projects, which he politely refused, not feeling ready yet to accept the challenge of making another film in English.
At the end of 1974, with several projects in development and with funds at the Carosse running low, Truffaut decided his next film would be an adaptation of a biography of Adele Hugo, the daughter of the great writer Victor Hugo. The film would detail her obsessive love for a British soldier, and subsequent descent into madness following his rejection. Truffaut knew finding the right actress to portray Adele was crucial and had set his heart on 19-year-old stage actress Isabelle Adjani. She was contracted to the theatre company Comedie Francaise, however, and initially refused to break with them. It took months of pressure from Truffaut on both her and the director of the company to release her, but eventually he succeeded.
The filming of L’Histoire d’Adele H (The Story of Adele H, 1975) took place on the islands of Guernsey and Goree off the coast of Senegal in the first three months of 1975. The isolation of the locations and the intense demands made on Adjani made it a difficult shoot. Truffaut seemed almost hypnotised by the beauty of the young actress. He wrote to a friend: “Filming her is the opposite of pleasure, it’s daily suffering for me, and almost an agony for her.” On its Paris release the film received disappointing reviews and struggled at the box office. It fared better abroad, largely as a result of the attention generated by Adjani, who received an Oscar nomination for her performance.
Just four months after completion of filming on Adele H, Truffaut began shooting a film all about childrenin the rural town of Thiers. Culled from anecdotes, news reports and original ideas going back to his own youth, L’Argent de poche (Pocket Money, 1976) is a collection of interwoven narratives focused on multiple characters, ranging from a newborn baby to an adolescent. Funny, touching and suspenseful, the film reflected Truffaut’s belief in “children’s tremendous ability to stand up to life and survive.”
L’argent de poche was a huge success but once again Truffaut was suffering from exhaustion and ordered to rest by his doctor. With no further film shoots scheduled until the autumn of 1976, he intended to give himself six months to rest, but his plans were disrupted by a call from Hollywood. On the other line was a twenty-nine year called Steven Spielberg who had just directed the most successful film of all time, Jaws. He wanted Truffaut to play the part of Claude Lacombe in his next film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. After some hesitation, Truffaut agreed and spent some four months filming in America, mostly in a vast warehouse studio in Alabama. Although he often felt homesick and was frustrated by all the endless waiting around, Truffaut got on well with Spielberg and valued the experience.
Death of a Ladies’ Man
While on location in America, Truffaut spent much of the time between takes working on the screenplay of his next film. L’Homme qui aimait les femmes (The Man Who Loved Women) was based partly on his own experiences and those of an old friend, Michel Fermaud. The film tells the story of a serial seducer of women who recounts his many adventures with the opposite sex while writing his memoirs. The hero of the story, Bertrand Morane, played brilliantly by Charles Denner, is no heartless Don Juan, however, but a depressive unable to form a lasting relationship because of his compulsion.
Truffaut’s intention in making the film was to create a portrait of a ladies man whose many conquests are a way of way of making up for the affection denied him in childhood by a harsh and uncaring mother. In doing so he succeeded in accurately portraying an aspect of his own character. Though shy, Truffaut was a genuinely charming man, whose many relationships included some of the most beautiful film actresses of the time. His experience of marriage, however, convinced him that he was unable to live long-term as part of a couple. He was aware of his own irresponsibility and selfishness and it often made him unhappy, but he couldn’t stop himself from continuing to act as he always had. This conflict is at the heart of the comedy of L’Homme qui aimait les femmes, which, despite its somewhat melancholic tone, was another great success at the box office.
Now in his forties, Francois Truffaut had become increasingly preoccupied with death and those close to him who had passed away. “I’m faithful to the dead, I live with them. I’m forty-five and already beginning to be surrounded by dead people.” Since the death of Andre Bazin in 1958, he had lost many close friends, lovers and colleagues. The death of Francoise Dorleac in a car crash was a particularly bitter blow. In 1977, two men who had been like fathers to him, Roberto Rossellini and Henri Langlois also died. La Chambre verte (The Green Room, 1978) was based on several short stories by Henry James and is about a man, Julien Davenne, who cannot forget those who have died. His whole life is dedicated to keeping alive the memory of his wife Julie who died at the age of 19. His "green room" is a shrine he has created to her memory and to others he was once close to.
Truffaut cast Nathalie Baye as Cecile, the heroine of the film, and himself as Davenne. Shooting took place in the autumn of 1977 in and around Honfleur. Many of the interiors were shot using candlelight, giving the film an appropriately ghostly quality. In spite of the dark subject matter, the shoot was frequently light-hearted with ‘irrepressible laughing fits before takes.’ Truffaut had severe doubts about whether the film would ultimately work, however, and especially about his own performance, believing himself too old for the role. His fears were initially dispelled by early screenings of the film. The response from friends and critics was unanimously favourable. The public nevertheless disagreed and stayed away from the film, both in France and internationally.
Truffaut was bitter and disappointed by La Chambre verte’s failure to reach a wider audience. On top of this he was suffering from health problems and the Carosse reserves were once again running low. He needed a hit and turned once again to Antoine Doinel. Now in his 30s, Antoine’s love life is as complicated as ever. While in the throes of a divorce from Christine, he has an affair with Sabine, then, while taking his son Alphonse to the station, he runs into Colette, his first love. Shot quickly on a low budget, L’Amour en fuite(Love on the Run, 1979), proved just the money-spinner that was needed. Truffaut, however, was dissatisfied with the film, which he described himself as “a swindle”.
Love and War
Anxious to make up for his previous two films, both of which had been failures in his opinion, Truffaut developed a number of projects, all of which, for one reason or another, failed to come to fruition. One of these, L’Agence Magique, was about a troupe of variety artists on an adventurous tour of Senegal. Instead he decided to proceed with the story of a theatre company, but set it in German occupied Paris during the Second World War.
Before writing the screenplay Truffaut and Suzanne Schiffman, his most faithful collaborator, ploughed through historical archives and poured over history books, gathering material from actors and managers memoirs. They also drew on their own memories, as well as family anecdotes, to accurately portray a time when arrests were common, Jews were deported in massive numbers, and the citizens of Paris had to abide by strict rationing and a midnight curfew which meant they couldn't afford to miss the last metro.
But it was not Truffaut's intention to make a political film. What interested him most, as always, were human emotions and the shifting relationships between characters. Much therefore rested on the presence and performances of the lead actors. In choosing Catherine Deneuve to play Marion Steiner, the lead actress and manageress of the theatre company, Truffaut commented: “I love the way she projects two facets: a visible persona and a subterranean one. She seems to suggest her secret inner life is at least as significant as the appearance she gives.” As for Gerard Depardieu, he had long been an admirer, and now, in the role of Bernard, the hot-headed actor and secret resistance fighter, he had the perfect part to offer.
Le Dernier Metro(The Last Metro) went into production on the 28th January 1980 in an abandoned factory in the suburbs. Raising the necessary funds had not been easy. Several distributors turned the screenplay down, objecting to the historical setting. Despite their reservations, the film was a smash hit. More than one million people saw it in Paris alone. Six months later the film won 10 Cesars including Best Film and Best Director for Truffaut.
One of the Greats
The huge critical and commercial success of Le Dernier metro raised Truffaut’s profile to an unprecedented level. There were retrospectives of his work in cities around the world, and the Carosse was on a firmer financial footing than it ever had been before. The film was not without its detractors however. One critic wrote scathingly of “seeing Truffaut and his friends stagger under the weight of the ugly little objects with which we honour success in the seventh art.” While another accused Truffaut of having joined the ranks of the “quality cinema” which he himself used to denounce.
Truffaut took advantage of a long interview in Cahiers du cinema to put forward his side of the story. He talked at length about his career and his relationships with collaborators and other directors. When the subject of Godard came up, he was unrepentant in his criticism of his former friend. “Even at the time of the New Wave, friendship was a one-way thing for him. Since he was very talented and already clever at attracting pity, we used to forgive his pettiness, but, everyone will tell you, he already had his slippery side, which he now can’t conceal.” On the question of future projects, the director said: “My only tactic is alternating, shooting a very low budget film after each costly film, so that I won’t be drawn into an escalation that leads to serious concessions, megalomania and unemployment.”
In contrast therefore to Truffaut’s previous film, La Femme d’à côte (The Woman Next Door, 1981) was shot quickly and on a modest budget. Inspired by his relationship with Catherine Deneuve, this was another study of an obsessive passion that destroys those who enter into it. In the female lead, starring opposite Gerard Depardieu, he cast Fanny Ardent, a young actress he’d first seen on French TV. “I immediately spotted and appreciated in Fanny Ardent,” he explained, “the qualities I most look for in the protagonists of my films: vitality, courage, enthusiasm, humour, intensity but also, to counterbalance these, a taste for secrecy, a wild side, a touch of savagery and above all something vibrant.”
During filming, this professional admiration became personal, and the director and his actress began a relationship. This was to be the last great romantic passion of Truffaut’s life. Similar in temperament, by mutual agreement they decided not to live together but to keep their independence, even though they were practically neighbours in the sixteenth arrondissement. In September 1983, Fanny gave birth to a baby girl named Josephine, Truffaut’s third daughter.
Much to Truffaut’s relief, La Femme d’à côte was a success, and he was able to take a much needed rest before beginning work on his next film at the start of 1982. The idea for this new work had come during the viewing of rushes for La Femme d’à côte. “We were looking at a night scene in which Fanny Ardent was walking around the house in a raincoat. Someone said, “It reminds me of a thriller.”
Like his previous stab at the noir genre, Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960), Vivement dimanche! (Confidentially Yours) was based on an American novel, this time by Charles Williams, shot in black and white, and has a strong vein of subversive humour running throughout. In the film Fanny Ardent plays the secretary of an estate agent played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, suspected of murdering his wife and her lover. In a departure from the novel, it is the secretary who carries out the investigation and solves the crime, while her boss hides out in his office.
Vivement dimanche! was released on 10 August 1983. Truffaut spent some time in Paris promoting the film, before retreating to a rented house in Normandy where he planned to spend two months resting and working on future projects. These included a remake of Nez-de-Cuir, a new adaptation of La Varende’s novel that he wanted to film with Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardent, and the story of a delinquent girl called La Petite Voleuse.
On the evening of the 12 August, after a day spent working with the screenwriter Claude de Givray, Truffaut experienced what de Givray described as "a fire-cracker going off in his head". After examination, doctors discovered a brain tumour, and, the following month, he was operated on and the tumour was successfully removed. For the next year, Truffaut continued to work on possible scenarios, and began work on his autobiography. However, his condition deteriorated, and he was re-admitted to hospital where he died on 21 October 1984.
As he had requested, Francois Truffaut’s body was cremated at the Pere-Lachaise crematorium and his ashes buried in the Montmartre cemetery. Thousands of people attended his burial. One month later, on November 21, 1984, a Mass was celebrated at the church of Saint-Roch where, in a scene reminiscent of La Chambre verte, hundreds of candles burned in the nave of the church.
Today, not only have his twenty-five movies gone on to become classics, but Truffaut is widely recognized now as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.