François Truffaut - Director

Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 6 February 1932. Education: Attended Lycée Rollin, Paris. Military Service: Enlisted in army, but deserted on eve of departure for Indochina, 1951; later released for "instability of character." Family: Married Madeleine Morgenstern, 1957 (divorced), two daughters. Career: Founded own cine-club in Paris, lack of funds caused closing, was jailed for inability to pay debts, released with help of André Bazin, 1947; with Godard, Rivette, and Chabrol, member of Ciné-club du Quartier Latin, 1949; briefly employed by the Service Cinématographique of the Ministry of Agriculture, 1953; writer on film for Cahiers du cinéma , then Arts , from 1953, including seminal article, "Une Certain Tendance du cinéma français," in 1954; with Rivette and Resnais, made short 16mm film, 1955; assistant to Roberto Rossellini, 1956–58; directed first feature, Les Quatre Cents Coups , and wrote script for Godard's A bout de souffle , 1959; published Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock , 1966; instigated shutting down of 1968 Cannes Festival in wake of May uprisings. Awards: Best Director, Cannes Festival, for Les Quatres Cents Coup , 1959; Prix Louis Delluc, and Best Director, National Society of Film Critics, for Stolen Kisses , 1969; Acedemy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, Best Director, National Society of Film Critics, Best Direction, New York Film Critics, and British Academy Award for Best Direction, for Day for Night , 1973. Died: Of cancer, in Paris, 21 October 1984.

Films as Director:


Une Visite (+ sc, co-ed)


Les Mistons (+ co-sc)


Une Histoire d'eau


Les Quatre Cents Coups ( The Four Hundred Blows ) (+ sc)


Tirez sur le pianist ( Shoot the Piano Player ) (+ co-sc)


Jules et Jim ( Jules and Jim ) (+ co-sc)


"Antoine et Colette" episode of L'Amour a vingt ans ( Love at Twenty ) (+ sc, role)


La Peau douce ( The Soft Skin ) (+ co-sc)


Fahrenheit 451 (+ co-sc)


La Mariée était en noir ( The Bride Wore Black ) (+ co-sc)


Baisers volés ( Stolen Kisses ) (+ co-sc)


La Sirène du Mississippi ( Mississippi Mermaid ) (+ sc); L'Enfant sauvage ( The Wild Child ) (+ co-sc, role as Dr. Jean Itard)


Domicile conjugal ( Bed and Board ) (+ co-sc)

François Truffaut
François Truffaut


Les Deux Anglaises et le continent ( Two English Girls ) (+ co-sc)


Une Belle Fille comme moi ( Such a Gorgeous Kid like Me ) (+ co-sc)


La Nuit américaine ( Day for Night ) (+ co-sc, role as Ferrand)


L'Histoire d'Adèle H. ( The Story of Adele H. ) (+ co-sc)


L'Argent de poche ( Small Change ) (+ co-sc)


L'Homme qui aimait les femmes ( The Man Who Loved Women ) (+ co-sc)


La Chambre verte ( The Green Room ) (+ co-sc, role as Julien Davenne)


L'Amour en fuite ( Love on the Run ) (+ co-sc)


Le Dernier Metro ( The Last Metro ) (+ sc)


La Femme d'à côté ( The Woman Next Door )


Vivement dimanche! ( Finally Sunday )

Other Films:


Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg) (role as French scientist)


By TRUFFAUT: books—

Les Quatre Cent Coups , with Marcel Moussy, Paris, 1959; as The Four Hundred Blows: A Film by François Truffaut , New York, 1969.

Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock , Paris, 1967; revised edition published as Hitchcock , New York, 1985.

Ce n'est qu'un début , Paris, 1968.

Jules et Jim , New York, 1968.

The Adventures of Antoine Doinel: Four Autobiographical Screenplays , New York, 1971.

La Nuit américaine et le journal de tournage de Farenheit 451 , Paris, 1974.

Day for Night , New York, 1975.

Les Films de ma vie , Paris, 1975; published as The Films in My Life , New York, 1978.

The Wild Child , New York, 1975.

Small Change , New York, 1976.

The Story of Adele H. , New York, 1976.

L'Homme qui aimait les femmes , Paris, 1977.

The Last Metro , New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1985.

Truffaut par Truffaut , edited by Dominique Rabourdin, Paris, 1985;

published as Truffaut on Truffaut , New York, 1987.

Le Plaisir des yeux , Paris, 1987.

François Truffaut: correspondence , edited by Gilles Jacob and Claude de Givray, Renens, 1988; published as François Truffaut: Letters , translated by Gilbert Adair, London, 1990.

La petite voleuse , with Claude de Givray, Paris, 1989.

By TRUFFAUT: articles—

"Une Certain Tendance du cinéma français," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1954.

"Renoir in America," with J. Rivette, in Sight and Sound (London), July/September 1954.

"La Crise d'ambition du cinéma français," in Arts (Paris), 30 March 1955.

Interview of Rossellini, with Maurice Scherer, in Film Culture (New York), March/April 1955.

"On the Death of André Bazin," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1959.

"On Film: Truffaut Interview," in the New Yorker , 20 February 1960.

" Les Mistons ," in Avant-Scéne du Cinéma (Paris), no. 4, 1961.

" Histoire d'eau ," in Avant-Scéne du Cinéma (Paris), no. 7, 1961.

" Jules et Jim ," in Avant-Scéne du Cinéma (Paris), June 1962.

"Sex and Life," in Films and Filming (London), July 1962.

" Vivre sa vie ," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), October 1962.

"Sur le cinéma américaine," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1963 and January 1964.

"Skeleton Keys," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1964.

" La Peau douce ," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), May 1965.

" Farenheit 451 " (working notes by Truffaut), in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February/July 1966.

"Jean-Luc Godard," in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), 16 March 1967.

"Georges Sadoul," in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), 18 October 1967.

"Ernst Lubitsch," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1968.

"Francoise Dorlèac," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April/May 1968.

"Is Truffaut the Happiest Man on Earth? Yes," in Esquire (New York), August 1970.

" L'Enfant Sauvage ," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), October 1970.

"Intensification," an interview with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), July 1972.

"The Lesson of Ingmar Bergman," in Take One (Montreal), July 1973.

"A Portrait of Francois Truffaut," an interview with S. Mallow, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1973.

Interview with Charles Higham, in Action (Los Angeles), January/February 1974.

"Adèle H.," an interview with Gilbert Adair, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1975.

"François Truffaut: The Romantic Bachelor," with Melanie Adler, in Andy Warhol's Inter/View (New York), March 1976.

"Dialogue on Film: Interview with Truffaut," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1976.

"Kid Stuff: François Truffaut on Small Change ," with J. McBride and T. McCarthy, in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1976.

"Truffaut, Part V," an interview in the New Yorker , 18 October 1976.

"François Truffaut: Feminist Filmmaker?," with Annette Insdorf, in Take One (Montreal), January 1978.

"Truffaut: Twenty Years After," an interview with D. Allen, in Sight and Sound (London), no. 4, 1979.

"My Friend Hitchcock," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1979.

Daney, Serge, Jean Narboni, and Serge Toubiana, "Truffaut ou le juste milieu comme expérience limite," interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 315, September 1980.

Interview with A. Gillain, in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 4, no. 4, 1981.

Interview with Marcel Ophuls, in American Film (New York), May 1985.

"Travelling arrière," in Télérama (Paris), no. 2335, 12 October 1994.

On TRUFFAUT: books—

Petrie, Graham, The Cinema of François Truffaut , New York, 1970.

Crisp, C.G., and Michael Walker, François Truffaut , New York, 1971.

Fanne, Dominique, L'Univers de François Truffaut , Paris, 1972.

Allen, Don, Finally Truffaut , London, 1973; revised edition, 1985.

Monaco, James, The New Wave: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette , New York, 1976.

Collet, Jean, Le Cinéma de François Truffaut , Paris, 1977; revised edition, 1985.

Insdorf, Annette, François Truffaut , Boston, 1978.

Walz, Eugene P., François Truffaut: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1982.

Winkler, Willi, Die Film von François Truffaut , Munich, 1984.

Bergala, Alain, and others, Le Roman de François Truffaut , Paris, 1985.

De Fornari, Oreste, I filme di François Truffaut , Rome, 1986.

Dalmais, Hervé, Truffaut , Paris, 1987.

Ciment, Gilles, and others, Les 400 Couples de François Truffaut , Paris, 1988.

Guerif, François, François Truffaut , Paris, 1988.

Cahoreau, Gilles, François Truffaut, 1932–84 , Paris, 1989.

Insdorff, Annette, François Truffaut: le cinéma est-il magique? , Paris, 1989.

Merrick, Hélène, François Truffaut , Paris, 1989.

Baecque, Antoine de, and Serge Toubiana, François Truffaut , Paris, 1996; translated by Catherine Temerson, New York, 1999.

On TRUFFAUT: articles—

Sadoul, Georges, "Notes on a New Generation," in Sight and Sound (London), October 1959.

Burch, Noël, "Qu'est-ce que la Nouvelle Vague?," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1959.

Farber, Manny, "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art," in Film Culture (New York), Winter 1962/63.

Shatnoff, Judith, "François Truffaut—The Anarchist Imagination," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1963.

Taylor, Stephen, "After the Nouvelle Vague," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1965.

Klein, Michael, "The Literary Sophistication of François Truffaut," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1965.

Braudy, Leo, "Hitchcock, Truffaut, and the Irresponsible Audience," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1968.

Wood, Robin, "Chabrol and Truffaut," in Movie (London), Winter 1969/70.

Bordwell, David, "A Man Can Serve Two Masters," in Film Comment (New York), Spring 1971.

Beylie, Claude, and others, "Le Continent, Truffaut et le deux anglaises," in Ecran (Paris), January 1972.

Jebb, Julian, "Truffaut: The Educated Heart," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1972.

Houston, Beverle, and Marsha Kinder, "Truffaut's Gorgeous Killers," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1973/74.

Lefanu, Mark, "The Cinema of Irony: Chabrol, Truffaut in the 1970s," in Monogram (London), no. 5, 1974.

Martin, Marcel, "Vingt ans après: une certain constante du cinéma français," in Ecran (Paris), January 1974.

Coffey, B., "Art and Film in François Truffaut's Jules and Jim and Two English Girls ," in Film Heritage (New York), Spring 1974.

Hess, J., "La Politique des auteurs: Part 2: Truffaut's Manifesto," in Jump Cut (Chicago), July/August 1974.

Thomas, P., "The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Bazin and Truffaut on Renoir," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1974/75.

Barbera, Alberto, special issue, in Castoro Cinema (Firenze), no. 27, 1976.

Carcassonne, P., "Truffaut le narrateur," in Cinématographe (Paris), November 1977.

" La Chambre vert Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 November 1978.

Tintner, A.R., "Truffaut's La Chambre vert ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 8, no. 2, 1980.

Almendros, N., "Otto set di Truffaut illuminati da Almendros," in Segnocinema (Vicenza), vol. 3, no. 6, January 1983.

" Le Dernier Metro Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), March 1983.

Turner, D., "Made in USA: The American Child in Truffaut's 400 Blows ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), April 1984.

Obituary in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1984.

"Truffaut Issue" of Cinéma (Paris), December 1984.

"Truffaut Issue" of Cinématographe (Paris), December 1984.

Truffaut Section of Wide Angle (Baltimore), vol. 7, nos. 1/2, 1985.

Jameson, R. T., and others, in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1985.

Dixon, W., "François Truffaut: A Life in Film," in Films in Review (New York), June/July and August/September 1985.

" Tirez sur le pianiste and Vivement dimanche! Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1987.

Moullet, Luc, "La balance et le lien," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1988.

Allen, Don, "Truffaut's Miller's Tale ," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1989.

Desbarats, F., "François Truffaut, ou la communication barré," in Cahiers de la Cinématheque (Peripignan), no 54, December 1990.

Gruault, J., "Nom de code 00–14 (avec François Truffaut)," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 447, September 1991.

Pasolini, Pier Paolo, "Fellini, Bergman, Trjuffo," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 3, March 1992.

Gassen, H., "Georges Delerue. Das Spektakel van Klang und Licht," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 9, no. 6, June 1992.

Rosenbaum, J., "Cineaste," vol. 20, no. 2, 1993.

Bénoliel, Bernard, "Vivement dimanche!: Testament de François Truffaut?" in Mensuel du Cinéma (Paris), no. 4, March 1993.

Auzel, D., "Truffaut. L'art d'écrire-l'art d'aimer," in Séquences (London), no. 164, May 1993.

Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 467–468, May 1993.

Douin, Jean-Luc, "La bande des quatre," in Télérama (Paris), no. 2262, 19 May 1993.

Crowdus, G., "Truffaut on Laserdisc," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 20, no. 3, 1994.

* * *

François Truffaut was one of five young French film critics, writing for André Bazin's Cahiers du Cinéma in the early 1950s, who became the leading French filmmakers of their generation. It was Truffaut who first formulated the politique des auteurs , a view of film history and film art that defended those directors who were "true men of the cinema"—Renoir, Vigo, and Tati in France; Hawks, Ford, and Welles in America—rather than those more literary, script-oriented film directors and writers associated with the French "tradition of quality." Truffaut's original term and distinctions were subsequently borrowed and translated by later generations of Anglo-American film critics, including Andrew Sarris, Robin Wood, V.F. Perkins, and Dave Kehr. When Truffaut made his first feature in 1959, Les Quatre Cent Coups , he put his ideas of cinema spontaneity into practice with the study of an adolescent, Antoine Doinel, who breaks free from the constrictions of French society to face an uncertain but open future. Since that debut, Truffaut's career has been dominated by an exploration of the Doinel character's future (five films) and by the actor (Jean-Pierre Léaud) whom Truffaut discovered to play Antoine. In Truffaut's 25 years of making films, the director, the Doinel character, and Léaud all grew up together.

The rebellious teenager of Les Quatre Cent Coups becomes a tentative, shy, sexually clumsy suitor in the "Antoine et Colette" episode of Love at Twenty. In Baisers volés , Antoine is older but not much wiser at either love or money making. In Domicile conjugal , Antoine has married but is still on the run toward something else—the exotic lure of other sexual adventures. And in L'Amour en fuite , Antoine is still running (running became the essential metaphor for the Doinel character's existence, beginning with the lengthy running sequence that concludes Les Quatre Cent Coups ). Although Antoine is now divorced, the novel which he has finally completed has made his literary reputation. That novel, it turns out, is his life itself, the entire Doinel saga as filmed by Truffaut, and Truffaut fills his films with film clips that are both visual and mental recollections of the entire Doinel cycle. Truffaut deliberately collapses the distinction between written fiction and filmed fiction, between the real life of humans and the fictional life of characters. The collapse seems warranted by the personal and professional connections between Truffaut the director, Doinel the character, and Léaud the actor.

Many of Truffaut's non-Doinel films are style pieces that similarly explore the boundaries between art and life, film and fiction. The main character of Tirez sur le pianist tries to turn himself into a fictional character, as does Catherine in Jules et Jim. Both find it difficult to maintain the consistency of fictional characters when faced with the demanding exigencies of real life. La Mariée etait en noir was Truffaut's elegy to Hitchcock, a deliberate style piece in the Hitchcock manner, while Fahrenheit 451 , his adaption of Ray Bradbury's novel, explores the lack of freedom in a society in which books—especially works of fiction—are burned. Adele H in L'Histoire d'Adele H attempts to convert her passion into a book (her diary), but life can neither requite nor equal her passion; instead, it drives her to madness and a total withdrawal from life into the fantasy of her romantic fiction. In L'Homme qui aimait les femmes , an incurable womanizer translates his desire into a successful novel, but the existence of that work in no way diffuses, alleviates, or sublimates the desire that vivified it. The Green Room is Truffaut's homage to fiction and the novelist's craft—a careful, stylish adaption of a Henry James story.

Given his conscious commitment to film and fiction, it is not surprising that Truffaut devoted one of his films to the subject of filmmaking itself. La Nuit américaine is one of the most loving and revealing films about the business of making films, an exuberant illustration of the ways in which films use artifice to capture and convey the illusion of life. This film, in which Truffaut himself plays a film director, is a comically energetic defense of the joys and pains of filmmaking, a deliberate response to the more tortured visions of Fellini's 8" or Bergman's Persona. Those Truffaut films not concerned with the subject of art are frequently about education. L'Enfant sauvage explores the beneficial power and effects of civilization on the savage passions of a child who grew up in the forest, apparently raised by beasts. Truffaut again plays a major role in the film (dedicated to Jean-Pierre Léaud), playing a patient scientist who effects the boy's conversion from savagery to humanity. Like the director he played in La Nuit américaine , Truffaut is the wise and dedicated patriarch, responsible for the well-being of a much larger enterprise. L'Argent de poche examines the child's life at school and the child's relationships with adults and other children. As opposed to the imprisoning restrictions which confined children in the world of Les Quarte Cent Coups , the now adult Truffaut realizes that adults—parents and teachers—treat children with far more care, love, and devotion than the children (like the younger, rebellious Truffaut himself) are able to see.

Unlike his friend and contemporary Jean-Luc Godard, Truffaut remained consistently committed to his highly formal themes of art and life, film and fiction, youth and education, and art and education, rather than venturing into radical political critiques of film forms and film imagery. Truffaut seemed to state his position in Le Dernier Métro , his most political film, which examines a theater troupe in Nazified Paris. The film director appeared to confess that, like those actors in that period, he could only continue to make art the way he knew how, that his commitment to formal artistic excellence would eventually serve the political purposes that powerful art always serves, and that for him to betray his own artistic powers for political, programmatic purposes would perhaps lead to his making bad art and bad political statements. In this rededication to artistic form, Truffaut was probably restating his affinity with the Jean Renoir he wrote about for Cahiers du Cinéma. Renoir, like Truffaut, progressed from making more rebellious black-and-white films in his youth to more accepting color films in his maturity; Renoir, like Truffaut, played major roles in several of his own films; Renoir, like Truffaut, believed that conflicting human choices could not be condemned according to facile moral or political formulae; and Renoir, like Truffaut, saw the creation of art (and film art) as a genuinely humane and meaningful response to the potentially chaotic disorder of formless reality. Renoir, however, lived much longer than Truffaut, who died of cancer in 1984 at the height of his powers.

—Gerald Mast

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