Wed 30 May 2012
‘Le Dernier Metro’ is one of the last films Truffaut made, and I believe was the last that premiered during his life time. His period of innovating and revolutionizing the French cinema, breaking conventions and pushing ahead a new way of making movies and a new style of passing the message from director (the undisputed author of the film) and the viewers was behind him. Now he had the time (and not less important the money) to make the films that expressed him best. It is significant that one of the themes he chose to deal with in this final period of his life and creation (although he may not have been aware it’s one of his final films) was the French Resistance and the Holocaust, more specifically the attitude of France and of the French people towards its Jewish population.
The film tells the story of a classical triangle of lovers in the best French tradition. He (Heinz Bennent) is a famous stage director, she (fabulous Catherine Deneuve) is a beautiful actress and has just taken over the administration of the theater, the rival to her heart is the womanizing young star (Gerard Depardieu in one of his first great roles). The times are however not usual, director Lucas Steiner hides in the cave of his own theater because the year is 1942 and he is a Jew, deprived of any civil right, deprived of his property, deprived of the right to profess his vocation, and soon to be deprived of the right to live. While his wife and one or two close friends stand to hide and defend him, the whole system of the collaboration is after his person, his family life, and his physical life. The forbidden love will eventually be consumed only after the duty of honor in protecting the prosecuted is fulfilled. The story saves the French honor by showing that some stood up, but also makes quite clear that those were only a few.
Some of the critics consider this film not to be one of Truffaut’s best, they also point to the success it enjoyed (most successful of all his movies) and to the plethora of Cesar prizes it received. I respectfully differ. Success with the audiences is no sin, and if true emotion is passed to the viewers, if we viewers go out of the cinema hall and continue to care and think fondly about the characters then the movie in my view succeeded. There is a double love story between the woman and the two men in her life, but there is also another story of love and deep respect in this film – it is the love for theater, for the art that fought censorship during the war and kept alive the national pride and also the capability of getting together the audiences and making them resonate to human emotions and share hope. To some respect ‘Le Dernier Metro’ plays in Truffaut’s cinematography the same role as ‘The Pianist’ plays in Polanski‘s career – a work apart with an important message and a sober but elaborated execution.