Apologies to Bob Marley, Ronald Reagan, Eva Braun, and all the other dead luminaries who celebrated their birthdays on February 6. Today, it transpires, is not their time. Instead, the world’s biggest internet search engine has opted to honour the 80th anniversary of the late François Truffaut via the medium of the Google doodle. When Sibelius made his crack about no one ever erecting a statue to a critic, he clearly reckoned without the rise of the Google doodle.
Arguably the foremost of the New Wave film-makers, Truffaut was also the first to go: killed by a brain tumour at the age of 52 after a life spent in perpetual motion. In his teens he had been the juvenile tearaway and in his 20s a crusading film critic, railing against the impoverished state of post-war French cinema and refining the auteur theory to allow the inclusion of Hollywood titans like Hitchcock and Ford.
Yet Truffaut went on to prove himself one of the most fresh and vibrant directors of his generation. His reputation, understandably, is primarily built on his astonishing early work: the fierce, freewheeling 400 Blows …
and the gloriously poignant and playful Jules et Jim.
But completists would also be advised to check out the handsome films from his mature, middle period, not least the troublesome L’Enfant Sauvage or the Oscar-winning Day For Night. Plus let’s not forget his deft acting role as Claude Lacombe, the sympathetic government scientist in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The tragedy of Truffaut was that was to be no late period. Having once vowed to make 30 films and then retire, the director bowed out after 25, leaving a rash of unfinished productions in his wake. Who knows how he would have fared as he pushed towards old age? Who can tell how his work would have matched up against the films of his former New Wave rivals? What seems obvious, however, is that French cinema has missed him. Softer than Godard, warmer than Chabrol, and more meaty than Rohmer, Truffaut was the man who brought the nouvelle-vague to the mainstream; who took cerebral film theory and made it sing. Happy birthday, François Truffaut. And wherever you may be, we hope there is cake and candles and that Eva Braun hasn’t drunk all the Blue Nun.
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