In This Article François Truffaut

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Correspondence
  • Interviews
  • Truffaut as Critic
  • Book-Length Critical Studies
  • Truffaut and Hitchcock
  • Truffaut and Other Filmmakers
  • Reference Work

Cinema and Media Studies François Truffaut
by
Alistair Fox
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0198

Introduction

François Truffaut (b. 1932–d. 1984) is renowned both for the originality and the enduring popularity of his films, being considered an iconic figure of the French New Wave, a movement for which he was an aggressive and controversial spokesman. Prior to becoming a filmmaker, Truffaut was a critic and film theorist, contributing to the journal Cahiers du Cinéma. Notorious for his ferocious attack on traditional French “quality cinema,” he also asserted that the director is the true author of a film, on the grounds that a director’s stylistic and thematic choices reveal his identity as surely as fingerprints. Having turned to filmmaking, Truffaut achieved instant success with his first feature film, The 400 Blows (Les 400 coups), which gained a prize at the Cannes Festival in 1959 and was universally acclaimed. Thereafter, he regularly produced a film every two years, accumulating an oeuvre of twenty-five films, a number of which, such as Day for Night (La Nuit américaine, 1973) and The Last Metro (Le Dernier Métro, 1980), were highly successful both in France and abroad. Subsequently, Truffaut’s reputation suffered a decline as his popularity grew with the incorporation of elements of genre cinema into his films, which caused certain of his fellow filmmakers, such as Jean-Luc Godard, to see him as betraying the ideals of the New Wave for the sake of achieving commercial success. In recent years, however, there has been a revival of interest in Truffaut, reflected in several retrospectives of his films, and the discovery of complexities in his work that have modified earlier appraisals of him as a sentimental, lightweight filmmaker. Indisputably, Truffaut has exerted an enormous influence on subsequent filmmaking in France and elsewhere, his influence being most evident in the auteur cinema of le Jeune Cinéma Français (Young French Cinema) of the 1990s and 2000s, the New Hollywood cinema of the 1970s, recent American “indie” movies, and various “New Waves” in a number of national cinemas such as those of Germany, Denmark, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand. Prominent contemporary filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Arnaud Desplechin, and Tsai Ming Liang have freely confessed their debt to Truffaut, leaving little doubt that Truffaut is emerging as one of the most influential figures in the history of cinema. Tragically, Truffaut’s career was cut short by his death from a brain tumor in 1984, leaving a number of foreshadowed projects unrealized.

Biography

While most of the books written about Truffaut contain a biographical sketch of his background and career, they pale into insignificance compared with the wealth of detail given in Baecque 2000, even though some might consider Baecque’s account somewhat one-sided on account of its rather negative portrayal of Truffaut’s personal life. Cahoreau 1989 is less well documented, but presents a much more sympathetic portrayal. Baecque’s and Cahoreau’s biographies should also be complemented by Le Berre 2005 and Rabourdin 1987, both of which contain a wealth of visual illustrations and commentary on Truffaut’s filmmaking methods and procedures.

  • Baecque, Antoine de. Truffaut. Edited by Serge Toubiana. Translated by Catherine Temerson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

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    The most comprehensive and detailed biography of Truffaut, including details of his intimate relationships (suppressed elsewhere), and interweaving detailed information concerning his life with meticulous accounts of the genesis of each of his films. Translation of Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana. François Truffaut (Paris: Gallimard, 1996).

  • Cahoreau, Gilles. François Truffaut 1932–1984. Paris: Julliard, 1989.

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    Presents a warmer, more eulogistic portrait of Truffaut than Baecque, acknowledging the filmmaker’s profound humanity and his privileged place in French cinema. In French.

  • Le Berre, Carole. François Truffaut at Work. London and New York: Phaidon, 2005.

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    Provides a minutely detailed examination of the contexts of all Truffaut’s films, copiously illustrated with photographic material. Le Berre focuses on Truffaut’s creative process, drawing upon archival resources such as the filmmaker’s own manuscript annotations on his screenplays, and affirms the coherence of his oeuvre, which revolves around the liberation of fantasies and a desire to be accepted. Translation of Le Berre, Carole. François Truffaut au travail (Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, 2004) (In French).

  • Rabourdin, Dominique, ed. Truffaut by Truffaut. Translated by Robert Erich Wolf. New York: Abrams, 1987.

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    Contains comments by Truffaut on his life and each of his films culled by Dominique Rabourdin, a French film journalist, from interviews, press releases, newspapers, and other media; chiefly valuable for its copious illustrations, many of which were drawn from Truffaut’s own files. Translation of Dominique Rabourdin, ed. Truffaut par Truffaut (Paris: Chêne, 1985).

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