A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, July 11, 2016

Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut, 1960)

You can tell this is an early French New Wave film because there's plenty of sending up the old way of doing things in movies -- in particular the American crime thriller -- without attempting anything terribly new. For example, at one point the protagonist is sitting up in bed with the woman he has just slept with and tells her to "do it the way they do in the movies," whereupon she covers her exposed breasts by tucking the sheet under her arms. The shifts in tone are astonishing, from slapstick to real violence and back again, which is what we expect of a New Wave classic. But there is nothing truly groundbreaking in Truffaut's storytelling here, the way there was in the feature that immediately preceded Shoot the Piano Player, The 400 Blows (1959), or would be in his next, Jules and Jim (1962). Still, we have a wonderfully engaging performance by Charles Aznavour as the titular pianist, Charlie Kohler aka Edouard Saroyan. We also have a perfectly fitted score by Georges Delerue and cinematography by Raoul Coutard that often betrays Truffaut's love of Alfred Hitchcock. Watching Shoot the Piano Player, it's easy to see why Truffaut was the first person approached to direct Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), with its similar oscillations in tone.