RARA-AVIS: UKTV: Tirez sur le pianiste

From: ejmd ( ejmd@cwcom.net)
Date: 21 Nov 2000

UK-based rara-avians may be interested to know that Truffaut's film of Goodis's _Down There_ is airing tomorrow night on BBC Knowledge.


(here's the blurb from http://www.bbc.co.uk/knowledge/languages/kino/index.shtml)

Foreign Language Cinema Classics Thursday 23th November 2000, 10:30pm

Tirez sur le pianiste

France 1960 Directed by Fran篩s Truffaut

This review is written by Leslie Felperin, Deputy Editor of Sight and Sound magazine.

Fran篩s Truffaut's Tirez sur le pianiste, Shoot the Pianist, offers a welcome opportunity to acquaint yourself, or reacquaint yourself as the case may be, with this now-underrated director's charms. Truffaut was one of the most gifted and influential auteurs to emerge from the French New Wave. But sadly, most mainstream movie fans my age or younger only know Fran篩s Truffaut as that French scientist guy at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He is also rather undervalued by critics and cineastes today.

<<Plot>> Based on David Goodis' dimestore schlock novel Down There, Shoot the Pianist tells the story of Charlie Kohler, a once-famous concert pianist played by singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour.

After the death of his wife, played in flashback by Nicole Berger, he takes to tickling the ivories in a honky-tonk Paris saloon. Shy and haunted, Charlie spends most of his time alone but his solitude is broken by the re-appearance of his long-estranged brother, on the run from two gangster colleagues. At the same time he falls in love with a waitress named Lena, played by fragile-featured Marie Dubois.

<<French New Wave>> In typical New Wave style, Truffaut delights in playing about with genre, with sudden shifts in tone and peculiar visual digressions. Dashes of slapstick, tragedy and romance flicker in and out of the film.

For example, one sequence features a time-fractured interlude showing Charlie and Lena lolling in bed. (I think this is one of the most romantic post-coital scenes ever committed to celluloid.) In another scene with the comical but deadly gangsters there is a flash cut to a wonderful silent-film-style gag.

All these delicious contradictions are captured perfectly in the theme-tune, composed by Georges Delerue who also did the score for Jules et Jim. The title song here is a jaunty little number tugged down to melancholy by a minor-key moroseness. Incidentally, Aznavour doesn't actually play the piano in the movie, although he fakes it brilliantly.

<<Director and cinematographer>> Shoot the Pianist was made in 1960 between two of Truffaut's best-known films, his autobiographical debut, The 400 Blows, and the m鮡ge ࠴rois classic Jules et Jim. It's a tribute to all the kiss-kiss-bang-bang B-movies Truffaut championed in his film criticism.

Shoot the Pianist is also a showcase for the work of another New Wave talent, cinematographer Raoul Coutard. He collaborated with Truffaut and Godard on much of their early work, including Godard's Breathless, which Truffaut co-wrote.

Coutard played a key role in the signature visual style of the movement: the handheld immediacy, the fragmentary jump-cut style, and the unusual framing. Always the inventor, in Shoot the Pianist he uses a rare widescreen format, Dyaliscope. His tightly held tracking shot of Lena running through the snow at the end of the film makes this penultimate scene a true heartbreaker.

<<Conclusion>> Shoot the Pianist wasn't especially well received by the critics when it first came out and the masochistic self-sacrifice of the female characters looks rather dated and embarrassing now. But in the end, it's a tender and charming work. You can forgive its faults for its flashes of brilliance, like the fabulous sequence where a long drive, shot through a windscreen, is collapsed into the space of a song. Don't shoot down Truffaut's reputation until you've seen Shoot the Pianist.

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