"30 Years of Truffaut's 'The Last Metro.'"

What is it that makes a work timeless? Can an artist set out to create a timeless work or must it organically linger in the minds of those who experience it and share that experience with others for years and decades. Francois Truffaut's “The Last Metro” is undoubtedly a timeless work; one that will linger for me and has taken up space in the minds of many for three decades now.

“The Last Metro” stars legendary ingĂ©nue Catherine Deneuve as Marion Steiner a famous film actress now operating the Theater Montmartre in Paris following the disappearance of her husband Lucas (Heinz Bennett). It is 1942 and being Jewish while Nazis occupy half the country and members of the Vichy Government conspire with them has made life dangerous for even a man as loved and respected as Lucas Steiner.

Lucas is supposedly on the run, headed for Spain or South America or maybe Hollywood. We will find out however that he is still in the theater and still very much in love with his wife. Meanwhile, Marion is running the theater and preparing to unveil a brand new production under the direction of Jean Loup-Cottins (Jean Poiret), a noble but not all that interesting director who will unknowingly be receiving Lucas's notes.

Joining the theaters regular players is an up and coming young actor named Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu) who we meet one day as he fails miserably attempting to pick up a woman he meets on the street. The woman, Arlette (Andrea Ferreol), also happens to be the wardrobe designer for the Monmartre and she has a very good reason for declining Bernard's advances.

Between meeting women on the street and now starring in the Monmartre's new play, Bernard also happens to be a member of the French Resistance, working in secret to get the Nazis out of Paris by any means necessary. Marion Steiner is unaware of the danger Bernard brings to the theater, especially with Lucas hiding in the basement.

Marion works hard to avoid politics but when one of Paris's most influential theater critics Monsieur Daxiat also happens to be one of the top Nazi conspirators in France, he brings politics to the fore and forces Marion into some very difficult and dangerous choices.

Reading my plot description I can see that I have described “The Last Metro” as something of a hot-house of plot. However, what is so amazing about Truffaut's work in “The Last Metro” is the complete lack of danger he brings to this material. Instead, Truffaut brings an effortless charm, sensitivity, care and nonchalance to even the most distressing and surprising plot revelations.

In “The Last Metro” the Nazis are a mounting threat but never the arch, over the top villains of most World War 2 films. Truffaut makes the simple choice to allow the audience to fill in the danger; who doesn't know how evil the Nazis were? Truffaut recognized that there was no need to underline the point.

We will learn that though Marion loves her husband she will inevitably fall for Bernard because that is what happens in a movie such as this. These two people are called upon to love each other on the stage and that love must eventually spread off the stage. It's part of a conventional narrative that this conflict must exist, what sets this conflict apart in “The Last Metro” is Truffaut's casual acceptance and passive presentation of Bernard and Marion's destined love affair.

Conflict is maybe too harsh a word to describe the effortless evolution of Marion's love for her husband to her love for Bernard. Making the transition charming and easy to swallow is the ingenious way Truffaut and actor Heinz Bennett conspire to make the audience feel good about Lucas being cuckolded. For Lucas, like Truffaut, art is evolution and the evolution of his production of this play calls for Marion to love Bernard regardless of her commitment to him.

There are other revelations in “The Last Metro” that also rise and fall like a gentle tide washing ashore. Watch the elegant ways in which Truffaut weaves the story of a pair of homosexual characters. As with his approach to the Nazis, Truffaut allows the audience to fill in the blanks about the difficulties these two characters face in both the time the film is set and, of course, under the thumb of the Nazis.

“The Last Metro” is remarkably sensitive and smart, gentle and dramatic. “The Last Metro” is simply a perfect movie, one so graceful and elegant that it could only come from an extraordinarily gifted creator like Francois Truffaut. In a too short life, he passed away at just 52 years old in 1984; Truffaut created a cinematic legacy like few others.


Sean Patrick Kernan is a film critic. Check him out at: http://www.myspace.com/number1ramjamfan Email Sean at sean@zoiksonline.com.
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