Director Francois Truffaut was a darling of French New Wave cinema. He left us some good movies. Unlike some of his contemporaries who played loose with form—with film as more of an intellectual exercise than a medium through which one could peer into the lives of other humans—Truffaut was a humanist, a man whose warmth toward his subjects gave his filmography an endearing quality. But when his work was bad, it was insufferable. Case in point, two of the four films on the new 2-disc Kino Lorber (KL) Blu-ray, the Francois Truffaut Collection.
A stark little film shot in black and white, The Wild Child (1970) might be the jewel of this release. Set in the 18th century, the movie (neither sentimental nor didactic) is about the relationship between a feral boy (Jean-Pierre Cargol), just reclaimed from years spent in a French forest, and the doctor (Truffaut) who tries to civilize him. In his examination of the conflict between civilization and primitivism, Truffaut’s use of old-fashioned movie technique (which makes the movie seem like a riff on a sound film from the late ’20s/early ’30s) is apt. Cargol’s performance stays with you, and Truffaut deserves his reputation as a brilliant director of kids. The Wild Child is a high watermark in his canon. It’s moving. Grade: A
Small Change (1976; a.k.a. Pocket Money), the next film in the KL set, is an episodic tale about a group of youngsters in Thiers and the growing pains they endure. Feather-light, the movie achieves a somewhat observational grace. I smiled through much of it. At one point, a character who’s a stand-in for the director waxes about the wisdom and importance of children—the only false step in an otherwise perfect, and mostly sunny, charmer of a movie. Grade: A
The Man Who Loved Women (1977) and The Green Room (1978) are the last two offerings in the KL set. They almost put me to sleep.
An engineer who adores many womenfolk, the hero of The Man Who Loved Women isn’t a sexist, misogynistic creep. Nor is he an innocent stud. He’s common. But the film doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. Truffaut uses the device of the man writing his autobiography to give us a glimpse into his mind. But there’s not much there; and Truffaut’s bemused look at the man’s compulsion begs the question. Is the movie a bid to do something different? To see if Truffaut could make a sex farce about a human robot that’s neither sexy nor farcical? A film that doesn’t even seem to regard his life as sad or empty? Truffaut tries to straddle tones as inoffensively as possible. The movie’s dull. Grade: D
Another study about a man obsessed is The Green Room. Truffaut plays a WWI veteran choked with survivor’s guilt, unable to give of himself unless it comes to matters of the dead. Based on the writings of Henry James, the movie is a missed opportunity. Unlike Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H (1975), a minor triumph about another sensitive soul who’s crawled so far up her neuroses that she’s become a walking shell of a person, The Green Room doesn’t let us latch onto the hero—from his first moment onscreen, he’s lifeless. Stiff, somnolent. Emotionally dead. Beyond this weak conception, the movie’s central flaw is Truffaut’s performance. He can’t suggest greater depths than is present in the surface coldness of the character. Grade: D
The Kino Lorber Francois Truffaut Collection may please the Truffaut completist. The special features are next to nothing—you get theatrical trailers for each of the films, plus (of course) optional English subtitles. Nothing about the technical details of this release upset me. I expected cleaner transfers to Blu-ray, but I’m spoiled from all the 4K I’ve seen. I would have liked a wider array of special features, but—it’s a decent set.
See it this way: As recompense for spending forty bucks on two great movies, you get the add-ons of two Truffaut misfires that at least show him trying not to repeat himself.