The Adventures of Antoine Doinel
5-film series with actor Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, from 1959 to 1979
d: François Truffaut
Reviews for each film will be forthcoming over the next several days. An extensive article on Truffaut from The New York Times in 1999 serves as an Introduction in his own voice.
France (99 mi) 1959 ‘Scope
France (32 mi) 1962 ‘Scope
France (90 mi) 1968
France Italy (100 mi) 1970
France (94 mi) 1979
Life Style of Homo Cinematicus - The New York Times Sanche de Gramont from The New York Times, April 18, 1999
A little girl was taken to see a movie on the life of Joan of Arc. When she got home her mother asked what it was about and she said, "It's about a lady who is burned at the stake and then becomes a shepherd girl." This could only be a Francois Truffaut story, because it explores the way movies improve on life -- continuous performance cancels the sequence of events.
Aside from being a much-admired film director, Truffaut is a charter member of a new species, the "homo cinematicus," who is concerned -- to the exclusion of nearly all other pursuits -- with life at 24 frames a second. When a long-lost friend ran into him recently and asked, "What has happened to you in the last 10 years?" he replied, "I made nine films." When he is not making films he is watching them (he has seen "Citizen Kane" 27 times), so that much of what he sees around him reminds him of old movies. He sees a poster in a metro station and says," That's like the poster in Renoir's 'Le Crime de M. Lange.'" In a cafe he says, "That bartender looks like the bartender in 'High Noon.'" He overhears a snatch of street conversation and it reminds him of the dialogue in an old Jean Gabin movie.
He prefers Nice for holidays because it is the only vacation spot in France with 40 movie houses. He is embarrassed when life intrudes on his screen memories. One evening he was eating alone in a Paris restaurant when Marlene Dietrich made an entrance with a gossip columnist who waved at Truffaut as they passed his table. "Is that Francois Truffaut?" asked Marlene. "Oh, but I adored 'The 400 Blows' and 'Jules and Jim.' I must meet him, do bring him over." The columnist leapt to Truffaut's table to deliver the message. Truffaut blushed, shook his head, and said, "No, no, no, no, no." "But just the other day you were telling me how you adored 'The Scarlet Empress' -- von Sternberg, Marlene married on horseback, her shimmering veil ..." "I can't," said Truffaut, "I admire her too much," and he put his nose on his plate.
Even Truffaut's biography is revealed through blessed celluloid. The opening scene of "Stolen Kisses" shows his recurring nonhero, Antoine Doinel, being released from a military prison and given a dishonorable discharge. Cutting back to Truffaut at age 20, we see him smoking cotton-and-aspirin cigarettes to get classified 4F, but then, inexplicably, enlisting in the Foreign Legion, deserting just before his unit is due to leave for Indochina, tuning himself in, jailed, and discharged thanks to the influence of friends.
But many of Truffaut's biographical allusions can only be understood by his close relatives. Who else can guess that Antoine's girl friend carries a violin case because Truffaut's aunt used to carry one in the afternoon on the way to the Paris Conservatory? Sometimes the autobiographical reference is transposed. In "The 400 Blows," Antoine tells the school principal, to explain his absences, that his mother has died. What Truffaut actually told a teacher during the Occupation was that his father had been arrested by the Germans.
Other sections of "The 400 Blows" are lifted directly from Truffaut's own experience. Like Antoine, Francois was always in trouble with school authorities, and his father was summoned by a juvenile court judge and told him: "Just think, your honor, he hates sports, he prefers to ruin his eyesight in movie houses." He forged so many sick notes that the principal called in his mother and told her: "We can't keep your son any longer, madame, his health is too frail." Truffaut ran away from home, sleeping in subway stations and at the houses of friends whose parents were away, and after two weeks he was caught and sent to a juvenile-delinquent center. Like the teen-ager in "The 400 Blows," his head was shaved.
Aside from being the most autobiographical of the New Wave directors, Truffaut has retained from his rebellious youth an indelible suspicion of authority. He has never voted or adopted a political position because he is unable to think of himself as a citizen. When he received an embossed invitation from General de Gaulle for the annual arts-and-letters parties, at which the French artistic and intellectual community lines up in single file at the Elysee to hear a few words of encouragement from the chief of state (to a comedian: "Monsieur, you have often made me laugh"), he sent the invitation back. He remembered the time when he was 14 and was arrested for stealing a typewriter, and two policemen came into his cell and said, "Why don't you admit you masturbate at night and we'll leave you in peace?" He remembered the director of his summer camp during the Occupation who sold food and supplies to the Germans. Life remains for him a conflict between children and adults, between those in control of society and those on its margins.
He stands back, quizzical and mistrustful, from all issues. When he was asked to sign an anti-Vietnam-war manifesto, he said, "I refuse to condemn the Americans like that, with a signature. There is no such thing as wolves and sheep, there are wolves on both sides ... A country at war which has the atom bomb and does not use it is giving a present to the other side."
Only once has he committed himself to a public issue, and that, predictably enough, involved movies. In 1968, some bureaucrats at the Ministry of Culture tried to oust Henri Langlois as director of the Government-subsidized Cinematheque, the world's outstanding film library. Langlois was the spiritual father of the New Wave directors. Truffaut, revealing an unsuspected gift for polemical efficiency, campaigned for months on his behalf by securing pledges from important directors that they would withdraw their films from the Cinematheque unless Langlois was reinstated. The opening shot of "Stolen Kisses" shows the locked gates of the Palais de Chaillot Cinematheque, the closing of which was as shocking to Truffaut as torture in Algeria had been to Jean-Paul Sartre. Thanks largely to Truffaut's efforts, Langlois got his job back and the Cinematheque reopened.
In order to grasp what the Cinematheque meant to Truffaut, let us listen to Henri Langlois as he sprawls on the banquette of a cafe like a large aquatic mammal, sipping warm grape juice and dispensing the cinematic gospel: "The New Wave generation (primarily Truffaut, Godard, Claude Chabrol, Louis Malle, and Alain Resnais) was weaned in the Cinematheque; they learned to observe life by watching films. King Vidor never used a shooting script, and these young directors worked from the direct observation of life. They were not professionals; most of them had never worked as assistant directors; they had never been taught what not to do. It was the triumph of antiprofessionalism.
"They showed there was no conflict between artistic and commercial success -- 'The 400 Blows' was voted the best foreign film of 1959 in the U.S. They restored dignity to their profession, whereas in America after Black Friday, Hollywood became cautious, barred the road to genius and relied on formulas. These young directors, so different in their sensibilities, formed a school in the same sense as the Impressionists did, in that they were against academic values and were able to express themselves freely.
"Take Truffaut. He is classic and not afraid to be. He is the complete opposite of the 'I want to be new and brilliant' school, but his films are like faces that will never show wrinkles. Like Renoir and Chaplin, he is his own rival, he is in that category of directors who are compared to themselves."
After his beginnings as a juvenile delinquent and a Foreign Legion deserter, Truffaut continued his misspent life as a movie critic. He laid down the law in the Cahiers du Cinema like a Spanish inquisitor, condemning directors of bad movies to prison and worse, and roasting the "Oscar collectors" as mere hacks, who, according to commercial requirements, went from a Bible spectacular to a western to a comedy on divorce with no urge to present their own vision of life. Truffaut's articles caused him to be banned from the Cannes Film Festival, but after "The 400 Blows" he returned as a member of the jury in 1960, the only decision he regrets. "The prizes were awarded frivolously," he recalls. "There were 11 judges, each with different interests, there were pressures, compromises, unexplained changes of mind, and we finally agreed on a film no one was against."
Along with his tastes and associations, Truffaut's personal life became subordinated to films. He never considered marrying outside the industry, and was hesitating between Hitchcock's daughter Patricia and one of Renoir's nieces when he met the daughter of a French producer named Morgenstern. The knot was soon tied, and she brought as her dowry the $80,000 loan Truffaut needed to make "The 400 Blows." He established his own production company, which he called Coach Films in honor of Jean Renoir's "The Golden Coach." He now has two daughters, 8 and 10, whom he is training to be script-girls. He has always kept complete control over his films, from the choice of subject and actors to the final cut.
The private Truffaut is revealed inferentially through his attitude toward his work. His shyness is reflected in the kind of people he chooses to work with, like assistant director Jean-Jose Richer and script-girl Suzanne Schiffmann. They must be reserved and natural; he cannot bear loud, pushy types. He uses the formal "vous" form of address with everyone -- a way of discouraging familiarity -- and he remembers as an important event in his life the time when he was working as Roberto Rossellini's assistant and announced that he was getting married, and Rossellini said, "In that case we must now say tu to one another." In most of his films there is a reference to the tu-vous dialectic, as when Charles Aznavour in "Shoot the Piano Player" tells a gangster, "I forbid you to use the tu form when addressing me," and the gangster repeats the dialogue using vous.
Truffaut is incurably French, and does not travel well. Once he went to Rome to make a picture for Dino de Laurentiis, starring Princess Soraya. When he arrived, he drank an iced tomato juice which upset his stomach. "I got panicky and thought, 'I don't want to die in Rome,' and I took the next flight back to Paris," he says. When he was in London shooting "Fahrenheit 451," he felt no rapport with the English crew, since he speaks only French. Off the set he holed up in the London Hilton for six months, and had his meals brought to his room. When he got back to Paris, his friends asked him what swinging London was like. "I don't know," he said. "I just got out of the Hilton."
When he is on his home ground, however, there is a remarkably relaxed and friendly atmosphere on the set, as there was when I attended a postsynchronization session of "Mississippi Mermaid," with Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo, the French star-equivalents of Burton and Taylor, except that they only have to see each other during working hours. Truffaut, a little wiry man with melancholy black eyes, was in shirtsleeves, smoking a Gauloise, and might easily have been mistaken for the assistant grip, the one who is sent out for coffee and fixes the plumbing in the star's trailer. He walks on his heels like Charlie Chaplin, with quick, short steps, and he speaks to actors as though he feared he was intruding. He uses the method developed by Maria Montessori with small children -- "Never raise your voice with an actor," he says.
I had been warned that Deneuve is like a barometer on a set; when she is not pleased with the film she is stormy. She tends to be hypercritical, to sit in judgment, but here she was radiant, unapproachably beautiful and yet joking with the technicians. She was the girl who walks into a room to have every man present fall in love with her on the spot. One of the script-girls, a drab, average woman, had a scarf tied to her waist, and Deneuve asked, "Is that so you won't forget something?" and the scripts-girl said, "It's so I won't forget I exist." The barometer was set at sunny and fair. I later saw a rumor published in Paris Match that the good feelings between her and Truffaut were more than professional. Belmondo stopped sparring with a technician long enough to say that "Truffaut's great with actors. He's like a good fight manager; he only talks to you when it's important."
Most actors are singularly inarticulate when they are not speaking someone else's lines, however, and it remained for Truffaut himself to explain the mechanisms of his art in the following monologue, which is exactly the kind of long statement he avoids in his own films, calling them "tunnels":
"Before I made any, I was drawn to very different kinds of films, and I never asked myself what kind of picture I would make. But when I started I decided on children, because I had to talk about what I knew, and outside of movies I knew nothing.
"I had suffered because I was an only child and I felt I was still close to the world of children; so I make 'The 400 Blows' almost like a documentary. I was no martyr, but my parents left me alone a lot (my father was an industrial designer and my mother was a secretary), and they often went to the movies; so when they went away weekends I would go see the movies they had been talking about. I did odd things. When Paris was liberated I waited for G.I.'s to come out of the Pigalle subway station to show them the whorehouses so I'd have a little chewing gum.
"And then I had so many examples of disorderly lives around me that I told myself -- and I haven't changed, that's why I'm antisocial -- adults are people who can do what they like and no one reprimands them. I was very sensitive to the amorous intrigues of those around me, to the couples, to the adultery, so that when I read 'Madame Bovary,' I identified with her completely, because she had money problems and so did I, and she secretly met her lover while I secretly went to the movies. And that is what gave me the urge in my films to show people in terrible trouble, because I had both the inclination to put myself in impossible situations and the capacity to suffer horribly in those situations, and that's basically why I like Hitchcock, because suspense is a horrible illness.
"Then, surprised that I had made a French film, although I had always admired American films, I make 'Shoot the Piano Player' to pay my debt to American movies. But I realized I did not enjoy filming gangsters or violence. I found them boring. I didn't want to make heroes out of them or Lavender Hill Mob kind of inoffensive and funny gangsters, so I made my gangsters fantastic and promised myself -- no more gangster movies.
"After that I made 'Jules and Jim.' I had always loved the novel, written by a man 75 years old [Henri-Pierre Roche], about two friends in love with the same woman, and for me it was a morality tale, not something scabrous, and I made it that way, without any physical love scenes. I also liked the idea of making a movie as though I were an old man, because the author was telling a real story that had happened to him when he was 20, and now he was writing about it 50 years later, which gave him a marvelous detachment and serenity, and I wanted to make a movie in the past tense, as if it had all happened a long time ago.
"Then I went back to an original screen play with 'The Soft Skin' [the story of a middle-aged married man who is drawn into an affair with an air hostess and is killed by his wife]. It was a very clinical study of adultery, and it was considered disappointing. And it was, because the principal character was not as attractive as an adolescent. No one wanted to forgive him anything. The malaise of a man caught in a complicated situation was so strongly expressed that it embarrassed the spectator.
"Then someone told me the story of Ray Bradbury's novel, 'Fahrenheit 451,' because I was saying science fiction is uninteresting and arbitrary. But when I was told, 'This is about a society where books are banned, and where the firemen, instead of putting out fires, burn the books that they find,' I wanted to make the movie, because I wanted to show books in difficulty, almost as if they were people in difficulty. It took me years to raise the money, and finally I had to make the picture in England, which was a serious handicap, but I kept the same idea. There were four or five book-burnings. In the first one you could see the books in piles of 10 and 20, while in the last one you could read the type as it was consumed by the flames, you could see the pages curling, and I wanted the audience to suffer as if it were seeing animals or people burning.
"After that, I wanted to make another movie with Jeanne Moreau, but I didn't want a love story, so I thought of a book I had read when I was 14, called 'The Bride Wore Black,' about a woman who kills the five men responsible for the accidental shooting of her husband on their wedding day, and I wanted to film it like a fairy tale. It was a story about fatality, about men who had done something in their youth, and this bride had the mission of vengeance to carry out. I told Jeanne Moreau not to be tragic, to play it like a skilled worker with a job to do, conscientious and obstinate.
"Then I made 'Stolen Kisses' because over the years I had neglected Jean-Pierre Leaud, and I wanted to take up the character he played in 'The 400 Blows.' It was a film that made itself. We started without a plot, we had fun, we didn't expect anything. When I think of a movie it's always in very simple terms, but when I'm finished, I'm surprised to find it's different from what I expected. I think of all the things that could only be understood by a few friends, not necessarily jokes, but a lot of allusions that help me solve problems of direction. Take the scene where the old detective dies while he's on the telephone. That really happened to a famous Russian director; he collapsed and his secretary picked up the phone and said, 'Hang up, please, your party is dead.'
"Sometimes it's things I see around me. In the last scene of 'Stolen Kisses,' a man comes up to Antoine and his girl and proposes her a definitive love. Some people interpreted that character as death, but it's just an idea I got in a restaurant, when I saw a man looking insistently at a woman who was with a date, and I told myself, 'It would be wonderful if he got up and declared himself.' I remembered that when I was looking for an ending. I didn't want a happy ending; I had to show that their happiness was threatened, and I immediately found the phrases the movie should end on; she said, 'But that man is mad,' and Antoine replied, 'Yes, yes,' but you sensed that he did not think so, that he was upset, because the whole film turns on what escapes you, what can't last.
"And I also liked the idea of a character for whom love is definitive, because there are a great many couples, one of whom considers that love is temporary while the other that it is definitive, and that is what creates the crisis of separation. There are many women who feel that the choice of a man is definitive.
"I work on location and never use a shooting script. We were going to shoot the last scene of 'Jules and Jim' in a cottage on the edge of a forest, but when we got there, there was such a heavy fog we shot it outdoors in the fog, and later we got a call from John Frankenheimer who was making 'The Train'; he wanted to know how we'd obtained such fantastic fog.
"I like to shoot on location because it's real. Studio doors don't close properly; I'm very attached to the truth of a door, the truth of a window, the truth of curtains. And when you go to real places, you can't prepare your script because you don't know what you're going to find, so you have to improvise. I like to use the time when the cameramen and the technicians are working, when the actors are putting on their make-up, that time when the director, if he's prepared everything, is twiddling his thumbs, to write my scenes. Everything works together: once I've seen the position of the chairs and the windows I see how the scene should unfold. I work better if I can write each scene at the last moment.
"I don't like the actors to arrive on the set knowing their dialogue by heart. I want them to learn it in the heat of the moment. I think when you're feverish, in the medical sense, of the word, you're much sharper, and I want my films to give the impression they were made with a fever of 104. Some actors have trouble adjusting. In 'Mississippi Mermaid,' a great friend of mine and a great actor, Michael Bouquet, who is so wonderful in Anouilh plays, arrived on location at Aix-en-Provence on a Monday, the only day he's not on stage, and I gave him his lines when he got off the plane, which gave him time to learn them between the airport and the set, and he came to me in a panic and said, 'Francois, I would do anything for you, I have the utmost confidence in you, but please, please, don't ask me to do this.' So I told him to come back the following Monday.
"Also, because of this, my dialogues are seldom more than a page or a page and a half, the scenes rarely last more than two minutes. In any case, that is not a real problem. What matters is that the failure of an interesting director is far more worthwhile than the success of a hack. Also, I've come around to an idea that I rejected when I was a critic, and that is to consider a film like a mayonnaise. All the ingredients might be good but it doesn't take, or a film can be totally different from what you intended because of an actor. But finally, what Giraudoux said is true, there are no good and bad plays, only good and bad playwrights.
"Take Godard, for example, he makes two or three movies a year, because he works like a painter. For him, what counts is not a single movie, but the work he has done during a certain artistic period. What I admire most in his films (although he can, if he wants to, show that he is visually one of the world's best directors) is the beauty of his dialogues. He started making movies at the time when we all discovered Bergman, who liberated dialogue, that is, he showed us that the characters need only express what the director wants them to. There is no need to concern oneself with their psychology, or their social situation, or the plot.
"And Godard has secrets, you know, he never has a character go out a door and into the street. His characters go out a door, turn to the left, retrace their steps, and then to into the street. They put a cigarette into their mouth, take it out, put it back in, light it, and when it's lit, throw it away. He is the only one who is able to express the instability of life. And he has also done away with the notion of characters who are likable or not likable, because in his films there are no feelings.
"Godard is certainly the most imitated director in the world, and people say, 'He opened the doors,' but I don't think so. I think he opened the doors for him, just as it's very dangerous to imitate Orson Welles by placing the camera on the ground. That's O.K. for him but not or the rest of us.
"Antonioni is the only important director that I have nothing good to say about. He bores me; he's so solemn and humorless. And I don't like the way he deals with women, because instead of talking about them as a man would, he talks about them as thought he had been told their secrets, like General de Gaulle telling the Algerians, 'I have understood you.' He flatters women, but it doesn't seem authentic to me. I don't see the merit of so much gravity. In 'Blow-Up' he was telling us, 'This is England today.' Well, that is a topic for journalists; I don't think it's very interesting for an artist to turn himself into a sociologist.
"The New Wave? Well, in the same three-month period in 1959 there came out Alain Resnais's 'Hiroshima Mon Amour,' Chabrol's 'The Cousins,' Marcel Camus's 'Orfeo Negro,' and 'The 400 Blows.' It was an event. In 30 years it will be impossible to write a history of the movies without mentioning the New Wave. I see it as a return to the origins of movies which in 1895 was a young art. You know when Melies went to Louis Lumiere to buy the patent, Lumiere told him, 'I would be doing you a disservice, this thing has no future.' But Melies believed in it, and after him there were a lot of young directors, until sound made movies too expensive to entrust to young people. The New Wave was a group of young people who had decided in their teens that they would make movies, whereas in the early days people got into movies by chance, because a neighbor was in it, or like Renoir, because he didn't want to be a painter like his father.
"That was our main link, that we got into movies by vocation and not by chance, that we started young, that we all learned the same lessons of simplicity and coherence from Renoir, Rossellini and Hitchcock, and that we wanted to assume entire responsibility for our films. And also, we were very conscious of the need for good acting. More than the others, I am concerned with the characters; I'm closer to the 19th century. There is not that much difference between a film I make and a novel that could have been published a hundred years ago.
"My characters are on the edge of society. I want them to testify to human fragility, because I don't like toughness. I don't like very strong people or people whose weaknesses don't show, and that rules out a number of actors with whom I can't work. I have allergies; I could never have made a movie with Clark Gable or John Wayne or an American-style hero. Jean-Paul Belmondo is my type of actor. He can say sad things magnificently; his voice in 'Mississippi Mermaid' enchants me, and physically he is very special. He can play a handsome character or an ugly character; he is like a bottle which you can fill with whatever you want. It's stupefying, he has the widest range of any actor today; he can play Jean Gabin parts and Gerard Philippe parts; in fact, it's too bad they don't have anyone like him in the States. Steve McQueen is interesting because he's sensitive, he has blue eyes, he has a Gary Cooper side, but still his face is too brutal, and the motorcyclist in him bothers me. The trouble in the States is that so many actors today come from television where they've been hired to play G-men and spies. No one has replaced Jimmy Stewart or Spencer Tracy or Cary Grant, those gentle, clear-eyed actors.
"I don't like the term director; I don't direct actors, I shunt them. At first I let them do what they want, and I might leave it that way, or I'll say, 'Make it sadder.' With Belmondo it's hallucinating, you don't even have to interrupt the scene. He starts out in a comic vein and the disparity with what I want is so great that I tell myself, 'I'm going to have to explain this, it's going to be difficult, it's going to take a long time,' and not at all, he says, 'Oh, you want it sadder,' and within seconds he changes it completely. That's because he has the dual theater-movie training. He knows how to emphasize a line and how to throw a line away, whereas Catherine Deneuve is exclusively cinematic, completely untheatrical, every intonation is even. So sometimes you have to say, 'This sentence is important'; you have to bring her out.
"I think they go well together; they're good to look at. I made 'Mississippi Mermaid' in Cinemascope, so I could have them both on the screen most of the time. In a lot of American movies with two big stars you have a problem of vanity; each star is filmed separately so you can put little lights in their eyes, and you get the impression they didn't act together. But I didn't want one to be more important than the other so I kept them together.
"I always take an actor aside so the rest of the crew can't hear what I'm saying. I believe in a muted, discreet method. I want the actors to forget there are a lot of people around; that's why I never allow any visitors or journalists on the set. In love scenes I ask the perchman to take his perch away and shoot it with a hidden microphone. All my intimate scenes are done with only four or five people around, with hardly any lighting. I almost never show lovemaking or kissing; either the kisses are interrupted, or you can't see the faces.
"I don't like kisses on the mouth, they distract me. I have the impression when the scene is too physical that it's slowing down the movie. The physical side of love stories bothers me. In 'Stolen Kisses' I showed a husband with a detective breaking in on his wife naked in bed with another man, but I tried to save the scene by having the detective hand the husband a vase of flowers to throw at them. But instead of throwing the vase he throws the flowers.
"I've only had real trouble with an actor once, and that was with Oskar Werner in 'Fahrenheit.' I had never had a hero in a movie. I had always had characters whom I had to convince the public to like, even though they were in the wrong, like Jeanne Moreau who loves two men at the same time, or like the selfish and unconcerned piano-player. With 'Fahrenheit,' for the first time, I had a character who was in the right, because he came to the defense of books, so it bothered me, it was as if I was making a movie with Kirk Douglas. I felt uncomfortable with a positive character.
"I asked Oskar to forget the heroics and to play the part with a great deal of modesty. But he wanted to play it with arrogance, like someone who is right against everyone else. It was a misunderstanding from morning to night. We argued all the time, and he would arrive on the set in a bad mood, and I would say, 'Oskar, in that scene you look like you're sulking,' and he said, 'Not at all, it's a science fiction film and I'm playing it like a robot, I have annihilated thought.' and I said, 'That's all well and good, but you'd be better off playing it like a monkey' -- that is, I wanted him to discover books like an animal, for the first time, sniffing at them, wondering what they were.
"On top of that, he is strongly misogynist, and he was playing opposite Julie Christie in both parts of the wife and the young girl. I wanted him to be nice to his wife, to treat her as if she were ill, because she was against books. She thought they were dangerous as dynamite, but he said, 'No, she's a Nazi, I've got to insult her.' So I had to change a lot of scenes. I ended each scene with a close-up of Julie Christie and I told her, 'Look at him as though you are normal and he is very, very sick.'
"Then we came to the scenes with the poetic young girl, and he wanted to play the seducer. He touched her arms and her shoulders, because, he said, 'I'm not happy at home with my wife, so I want romance with this young girl.' I told him, 'That will be most unpleasant. This is not a movie about adultery, this is science-fiction. Touching her is out of the question; it will be disgusting to see you being a brute at home with your wife and a Romeo away from home with this young girl.' But he did it his way; he constantly disobeyed, so I would get angry and say, 'I forbid you to touch her,' which made him furious, and we reached a point where we weren't even speaking to each other, and I would go through the scene with his stand-in, who told him what to do when he arrived. For the last three weeks of shooting we didn't say a word to each other.
"Well, those things happen. What shocks me is when I see a director, who has really suffered with an actor, make another movie with him -- that's real servility. With 'Fahrenheit,' if I hadn't waited six years to make it, I would have left like a shot.
"Often I write with a particular actor in mind. When I write for Jeanne Moreau I can hear her voice. We've been friends for 10 years. She has a kind of moral authority; even in a disgusting movie like 'Great Catherine' it shines through. She is very physical, very carnal, but she prevents anything dirty from coming out over on the screen. She is like love; she is not like lechery, and she must feel that way herself because she is very firm about refusing to act in movies about adultery. She would never have played a part like Anne Bancroft in 'The Graduate.' In 'Jules and Jim' she rejects conventional morality, but invents her own, and it leads her to suicide. When you know her, you find that she has the qualities of both a man and a woman, without the laborious reasoning side of men and without the coquettishness of women.
"Some actors are able to change my conception of the characters I want them to play, like Jean-Pierre Leaud in 'The 400 Blows.' I picked him from 60 children I interviewed. He wanted the part so badly; he had such vitality. I was thinking of a more introverted child, and I kept adapting the screenplay to suit him. In one scene, where the psychologist questions Antoine, I told him to answer what he wanted; it was improvised, and he even brought in a grandmother who was not in the rest of the film. People said we looked alike, and it may be true. And then, because we saw so much of each other, there was a mimetic thing.
"Also, his life was a little like my own, he had an unstable childhood. When we were shooting 'The 400 Blows,' he was living with his parents, and his mother came to see me, weeping, and said, 'It's not possible, he wants to fight his father,' and then he would show up on the set with his face bruised. When you're making a picture you're very selfish, and I said, 'This can't go on.' So I took him in. At that point, I toughened the movie; I decided it shouldn't be a comedy.
"The script-girl told me, 'You know, the public will never accept this move because you are showing them a little loafer who steals money and hides it in the chimney.' But when the movie came out, I had the opposite impression; I felt the public was too severe with the parents and too indulgent with Antoine. Because I had wanted to show that the parents were totally at a loss with this unpredictable kid, who does everything in hiding. But the way it came out, the child was adorable.
"The lack of success of 'The Soft Skin' can be explained because the principal character is a kind of Monsieur Bovary. He lies to his wife; he takes his mistress with him on a lecture tour in the provinces, but he says, 'I can't show up in front of everyone with this girl,' and he hides her in a small hotel, whereas he has a room reserved in the biggest hotel. He only does monstrous, hypocritical things. It shocked a lot of people. But for me 'The Soft Skin' is about the same thing as 'The 400 Blows.' It shows a character caught in an ever-tightening web of circumstance. The audience could accept that kind of behavior from a child but not from a well-dressed, middle-aged man, responsible for his actions.
"In 'Stolen Kisses' I was able to make the audience accept the fact that Antoine Doinel, now 20, could at the same time sleep with a girl his own age, with a married woman, and with whores. Even his worst misdeed is acceptable. When after the burial of the old detective he picks up a whore outside the cemetery, the audience accepts it because he's still an adolescent at heart and, of course, Leaud is like that as a person, full of goodwill and awkwardness, a combination of anguish and wholesomeness."