While the film is clearly filled with references to other movies – most notably Les Enfants du Paradis, To Be or not to Be and Le Carrosse D’or – this does in no way impede the truthfulness of Truffaut’s rendering of the period. In fact, he wrote the film just after publishing a meticulous piece of research on French wartime drama. As Annette Insdorf tells us: ‘Actors’ memoirs, meticulous research, and the director’s own experiences as a child in wartime France provided the abundant details that punctuate The Last Metro’5.
In fact, it has often been argued, even by the director himself, that the apparent ‘naive’ vision of the Occupation resides in that the story is viewed from a somewhat childlike perspective, possibly a restitution of Truffaut’s own childhood experiences during the war years. ‘For all the backstage camaraderie at the Thi?? atre Montmartre’, Rubinstein argues, ‘everyone in The Last Metro at least seems to harbor undisclosed motives. That is life under Nazi surveillance. And that is life as a child might see it’6.
What this film shows is that the personal experience most French people had of the Occupation period has in reality little to do with constant Gestapo oppression, heroic resistance to the invader and permanent danger or suspense. Rather, it expresses the long, patient, dark and slow-motioned wait for a liberation that would eventually mean a going back to normal. More importantly, this film emphasizes aspects of mistrust and individual secrecy that the Occupation forced a whole population to adopt.
With this film, Truffaut wished to ‘evoke the atmosphere of the Occupation’7. It is therefore understandable that the movie pays a lot more attention to light, di?? cors or visual metaphors than it does to action and suspenseful story-lines. The critique Yann Lardeau, for instance, argued that if the portraying of the Occupation is ‘too rosy’, it is only because Truffaut has managed to create a false suspense and a sense of unsatisfied expectation by using purely ‘decorative’8 and theatrical devices.
The darkness of the film, the claustrophobic setting of the story in a theater and the slow-motioned intrigue, all help Truffaut reconstruct an atmosphere of the period rather than a worded account of it. ‘A film on the Occupation, Truffaut once claimed, ‘should reconstruct the period through darkness, claustration, frustration, and danger’9. ‘Darkness’ and ‘claustration’ are indeed the two devices that shape the whole film and give it its tone.
Truffaut also turned back to techniques used in the 1940s; acting techniques as seen in the rehearsal scenes, but also filming techniques which render better the atmosphere of those times. As V. Canby explains: ‘The streets of Paris have the cramped look of streets shot in a studio, which recalls the look of films of 40 years ago and reflects the feeling of restriction of life in an occupied zone’10 . In my opinion, Boyum is fooled by her aversion of the film and therefore misses the point when arguing that ‘to say that the theater provides an escape and a refuge is really not to say anything’11.
Indeed, this certainly is not the message Truffaut tried to convey in The Last Metro, and if he used a theater as the setting of his film it is not to affirm some pseudo-sociological critique of escapism, but simply to reflect in a stronger way the obscurity, confinement and blurred reality of the Occupation years such as he himself experienced them.
References Affron, M. J. and E. Rubenstein (eds), 1993, The Last Metro, Frani?? ois Truffaut Director Allen, Don, 1985, Finally Truffaut (London: Secker and Warburg) Durand, Yves, 1993, La France de La Deuxii?? me Guerre Mondiale 1939-1945 (Paris: Armand Collin)
Holmes, D. and R. Ingram, 1998, Frani?? ois Truffaut (Manchester University Press) Morris, Allan, 1992, Collaboration and Resistance Reviewed (New York: Berg) 1 M. J. Affron and E. Rubenstein (eds) 1993, p. 188. 2 Affron and Rubinstein 1993, p. 5. 3 1985, p. 198 4 Affron and Rubinstein 1993, p. 175. 5 Affron and Rubinstein (eds) 1993, p. 174 6 Affron and Rubinstein 1993, p. 13 7 Affron and Rubinstein 1993, p. 20 8 Affron and Rubinstein 1993, p. 192 9 Cit. in Affron and Rubinstein 1993, p. 5 10 Affron and Rubinstein 1993, p. 187 11 Affron and Rubinstein 1993, p. 188 ??