Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois on November 11, 1973 · 228
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Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois · 228

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Chicago, Illinois
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Sunday, November 11, 1973
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228
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L&4 """ I ' II '"I I 5 1 . Ill . i, 31 S 1 I .V. : J . V H V I lJ " .,1 f 1 I ft, IPvrs 41 Ubfi J--'"-'i .n Ai I 1 r .42A v f J Francois Truffaut center, in leafhtr juckvij ana nw creto set wo a 4 H , scene or , vf L "Day for Night." U?Jil ..... It ! i 1 v.' r I 1 The touch that transcends violence and death 1 By Gene Siskel THE LAST two weeks of movies I have seen have been fairly typical: two horror films involving cannibalism, two bank robbers caught in a Mafia-police crossfire, one rumble between black and white motorcycle gangs, three violent and doomed love triangles. Invariably, these films climax in death. Gunplay has replaced dialog as the principal mode of communication in so many of today's movies. It's a brutal and depressing world the movies represent, and It is to he found in the work of even our finest filmmakers. The most representative Image of the films of the late '60s and early '70s occurs in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange": Malcolm McDowell recalls Gene Kelly "Singing in the Rain"; ins'ead of kicking at puddles, however, McDowell kicks the testicles of a helpless writer. The wince has replaced the smile as the most sought after audience reaction in so many of today's movies. The nihilistic and hopeless abound in such quantity, it is easy to forget exceptions to the rule. No time to remember, here come the bullets! And that's why I almost forgot about Francois Truffaut. More than any director in the last decade, Truffaut's films have been life-affirming. Not thumb-in-the-car, simpleton-grin life-affirming. Not animated-pie-in-the-ani-mated-Dlsney-sky life-affirming. No, Truf-faut'a films art about problems, are about injustice, but at their center there's always a survivor. Truffaut's films do not end in death. At the end of "The 400 Blows" 1959, a film full of adult cruelty to a child, the young lad escapes a juvenile detention center and runs toward freedom. At the end of "Bed and Board" 1971, the last of four films about that same child, now a married man of perhaps 23, the young man throws his wife's coat down a flight of their apartment building's stairs. A woman who lives downstairs from the young couple looks at the coat and then at her husband, who himself has tossed his wife's coat out the door once or twice. She says to her husband, "You see, dear, they're truly in love now." I had the occasion, the privilege, to meet Truffaut two weeks ago at the San Francisco Film Festival where his 13th film, "Day for Night," received its West Coast premiere. The film was screened last night at the Chicago International Film Festival and b scheduled to open its commercial run In Chicago on Dec. 21. The theater has not been set. Our interview had three locations: lunch at the lovely Alta Mira Hotel, which overlooks the bay area around Sausalito; dessert in the form of conversation at Truffaut's suite in the Fairmont Hotel, the front lawn of which was being dug up to hold a propane gas tank oil shortage, and all that; and, finally, an audience question-and-answer period at the film festival auditorium, where "Day for Night" and clips from many other Truffaut films were shown. Also at the lunch, and frequently serving as interpreter, was Jacqueline Bisset, the British actress her last name rhymes with "kiss-it" who is best remembered as Steve McQueen's girl friend In ' Bullitt." Bisset stars as the glamorous actress In "Day for a cinema preoccupied with death, Truffaut's characters are gloriously, painfully alive. And so Truffaut and I spoke of life and death. Q. There's very little killing in your films. How come? A. I find that violence Is very ambiguous in movies. For example, some films claim to be antiwar, but I don't think I've really seen an antiwar film. Every film about war ends up being pro-war. Q.-Even a film like Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" or his "Dr. Strangelove'-'? A. Yes, I think Kubrick Ukes violence very much. I have thought about Truffaut's point for the last two weeks, and only now am I Q. A'ot only do your films not contain hilling, they lack superheroes. . . . Why dont your films include supermen? A. Because I have never met one. Night," and that accounted for her pres ence at lunch. During the lunch, during the questioning, Truffaut began playing with Bisset's necklace, which she had removed and placed on the table between their place settings. The necklace held a string ot copper rings, and Truffaut kept on playing with it, rearranging it into different shapes. At one point he fashioned the necklace into the shape of a fish, completing the sculpture by patting the fish's head. Over-interpreting. I mentioned to Bisset that I thought it was symbolic that Truffaut had taken an inanimate object the necklaceand turned it into a living tiling. He makes things live, I ventured. "No, I think he's just nervous," Bisset said. "If his playing with my necklace represents anything, it might be his attention to detail. And, actually, I don't think he makes dead things live so much as he finds the life in living things. At least that's the feeling I get after having worked with him. Every character in his films Is clearly alive." Bisset and I weren't all that far apart. There was a crucial point of agreement: in rUrAfir TDIQI IMC. A-t Cim MnwamKor H Q74 viuwnviw tFtiuuitU' rvu in i uii iivbhwi iii itm beginning to understand and agree with him. In "Paths of Glory," which so many people consider the strongest antiwar film ever made, the film doesn't so much condemn war as the French government that thought it necessary to sacrifice its soldiers. War isn't hell; it's just the men who run them are frequently hellish. And every war film, just like every war, has its heroes, and that, too, seems to cut across any antiwar sentiment.. As Truffaut said, it makes violence ambiguous. Q.-Would it be better, then, to say that you are more interested in interior violence than external violence? A. Yes, for me Bergman's "The Rite" was a very violent film. In it, the judge dies looking at something that is too beautiful. Q. You are more Interested in violence between Individuals rather than between institutions? A. Exactly. Q. Not only do your films not contain killing, they ato lack superheroes, men that are larger than life, men that can solve everybody's problems, men like "Dirty Harry" Callahan, "Billy Jack," the men played by actors such as Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, and dozens of others. Why don't your films include supermen? A. Because I have never met one. But of course. Truffaut's films are full of events and people that he has experienced and experienced with that attention to detail that Jacqueline Bisset spoke of. Q. Well, let's say you had to make a western. What would it be like? A. Like Nicholas Ray's "Johnny Guitar" 19541. It's really a love story with a lot of bitterness. You hardly see any horses. Another way of looking at what is special about Truffaut is to consider that in 1969-70, while the American film industry was cranking out such gloom and doom epics as "Easy Rider" and a host of campus rebellion pictures, Truffaut was making a little film called "The Wild Child," the true 18th century story of a scientist's attempt to civilize a child who had spent most of its life in the woods. Both "Easy Rider" and "The Wild Child" were about what one person could do for another: in "Easy Rider" he could bash Jack Nicholson's head in with a baseball bat; in "The Wild Child," thru hard work, he could liberate another soul. Q.-Why did you make "The Wild Child"? A. It was a true story, you know, and when I read about it, I found it to be utterly fascinating. It held the same attraction for me as "The 400 Blows": a child was always at the center of it. I wanted to see if I could make a successful film with a child at the center. It would be difficult, but that's the kind of film I like to work on, those are the ones that are worth spending a year of one's life on. When I decide to, make a film, I make a wager with myself that I interest an audience in it. That was also true with this last film, "Day for Night," which is a film about making a film. I made "The Wild Child" because I was intrigued with the idea of showing the child doing ordinary things like eating off ' a plate, like wearing shoes that became extraordinary because the audience would Continued on page 11 Section S Paae 3.

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