Jump to colour: Laura Truffaut talks about her father's iconic style

The Bride Wore Black. France, 1968. Director: Françis Truffaut Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Claude Rich, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Bouquet, Michel Lonsdale. New 35mm print screening at Pacific Cinémathèque with Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend Dec. 9, 10, 11 and 14.

FRANCOIS Truffaut's 1968 film The Bride Wore Black is full of Hitchcockian references but Laura Truffaut, eldest daughter of the late director, says that her father's homage to the master of suspense is only one aspect of the production.

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Truffaut's revenge film, starring Jeanne Moreau and a cast of male actors who were just making names for themselves in French cinema, is very much the work of an auteur but that auteur is Truffaut himself.

Laura, who has lived in Berkeley, California for several decades, spoke to the North Shore News about her father's work as a new 35mm print of The Bride Wore Black begins circulating throughout North America.

North Shore News: Was film a big part of your life when you were growing up?

Laura Truffaut: Not on a daily basis. We weren't there on a daily basis - a lot of them were shot on location so my sister and I weren't physically there. Sometimes we were. My father travelled a lot too because his films were shown everywhere. That was very abstract, it wasn't something we were part of. We had a very normal childhood. We did go to movies. We usually went with our dad on Sunday afternoons. When he was working he often worked on the editing viewing some dailies with his editor on Sunday morning and he would take us along. The Bride Wore Black is the first film I remember seeing dailies for and I also remember seeing it when it opened. I was eight at the time. But it was in that limited frame, otherwise no, not at all.

North Shore News: Where would he be editing?

Laura Truffaut: For his early movies it would just be somewhere in Paris and probably really close to his office. The film industry in Paris in those days was pretty much centred around the Champs-Élysées. He and his editor would rent a small screening room and they would view a lot of takes. My view was limited to those takes we saw and some of them didn't make it in to the movie. Much later in the '70s he was able to take his editor on location and have kind of an editing table set up and he really liked that. He liked being able to view scenes and do a little bit of editing as the shooting was still progressing. That wasn't the case at the time of The Bride Wore Black.

North Shore News: Your childhood and the birth of the French New Wave go hand in hand chronologically.

Laura Truffaut: (Laughing) I know - isn't that frightening? The New Wave isn't that new anymore.

North Shore News: The cinematheque meant a lot to your father - did you go there with him as a child?

Laura Truffaut: Yes we went. I remember he took me to see Memoirs of a Cheat by Sacha Guitry. I think I must have been 10. He took me to see a Charlie Chaplin movie but I was much younger and it was also located fairly close to the apartment where I grew up. When I was a teenager we went frequently. It was the one place where you could see movies that weren't in circulation, you know, certain Hitchcock movies and so on. He went to the cinematheque and he went to a lot of movies in Paris. There were a lot of theatres showing classics, old movies - when we went to see a movie it was not necessarily a new movie it wasn't often something he had seen eight times but not in the last six years.

North Shore News: You also worked on some of his films.

Laura Truffaut: I asked for a job when I was 16. He happened to make a film in the summer during my summer vacation. I was in high school. I just had one more year to go and at 16 all my friends were working at supermarkets and clothes stores. I remembered in Day for Night one character gets a job as an assistant script supervisor because she's the movie star's girlfriend and that gave me an idea. I asked my father for a job on the set in the summer and he agreed and I got to learn to be a script supervisor. But that was that really, after that when I was in college and when I could I would go and visit on the set. I was very tempted to leave my studies because the atmosphere on the set was really fun for me. And then I realized I didn't love the job of script supervisor. I didn't feel ready to enter the work place at 18 and work 10 months of the year or whatever. It was very attractive in some ways but I don't think I was meant for it. (Laughing) That was bad for my movie career.

North Shore News: What were his film sets like?

Laura Truffaut: Oh, they were wonderful. I imagine that different directors value different stages of the filmmaking process - probably some value the editing more than anything or the writing or the storyboarding but for my father clearly being on the set, on location, was what he enjoyed the most. I'm sure it was more tense for him than I realized because the work was on his shoulders squarely. One of the movies I worked on Small Change had mostly children actors so it was important to keep it light no matter what. I may have been fooled by that I don't know. For me it was fun, for him it was work. In the evenings and even on the weekends he often kept working on dialogue. The dialogue was written progressively. The screenplay was already written but the dialogue was never written out in advance and so after-hours he was usually working with his assistants on the dialogue three or four days ahead.

North Shore News: Was this true of all of his films?

Laura Truffaut: You know I'm not sure. I think it depends. I would imagine a movie like Two English Girls or Jules and Jim were much more written because of their literary nature.

It was a question of what sounded natural for the actors to say. It was frustrating for him to work in English on Fahrenheit 451 because once the dialogue was established he didn't feel competent enough to modify it.

North Shore News: That was just before The Bride Wore Black. I guess that was an important time as he was just starting to use colour as well.

Laura Truffaut: I think it was partly a matter of budget. No wonder all those early New Wave films were in black and white that was the norm in France in those days and it was a big job that jump to colour. As he went along he started having more theories about colour. He felt that colour ran the risk of making a movie look too documentary-like. He started having some rules for himself - not showing too much sky was one rule during the daytime - in daylight not having too much of the sky visible. He hadn't come up with it by the time of The Bride Wore Black. It evolved later partly because he was a little frustrated with colour. He occasionally would have liked to go back to black and white and that was pretty much impossible because rights could not be sold to television networks. Television networks balked at buying black and white movies so his later movies in colour like The Man Who Loved Women or The Green Room are not quite monochromatic but they work on a very narrow palette. They're colour movies but don't have the full technicolour treatment.

North Shore News: Jeanne Moreau had worked with him before.

Laura Truffaut: That's right it was the return to an actress he really loved working with. Some of the men were actors he had noticed in the theatre and he was very eager to work with.

Several of them worked with him again. Brially was very popular in the New Wave circle. My father loved working with Charles Denner and really expanded on that character in the movie The Man Who Loved Women 10 years later. He enjoyed his actors - you could jump from one to the next to the next.

North Shore News: And what a loaded cast that is in The Bride Wore Black.

Laura Truffaut: I don't what that means for audiences today in North America. In France the actors are still well known for their body of work. I'm not sure internationally how that works out. At the time Jeanne Moreau was the one big name, the others were not established yet as far as traditional box office.

North Shore News: One shaping force for this film and others was Hitchcock.

Laura Truffaut: Yes, but I think possibly less than what is assumed. To me it looks like other films of my father about characters having one goal, one objective. I'm not sure how much suspense there is really in The Bride Wore Black. It's commonly assumed to be a tribute to Hitchcock but I'm not so sure.

North Shore News: I think because of the book it is based on as well.

Laura Truffaut: Because it's adapted from a Cornell Woolrich story, yes that's true. Mississippi Mermaid is also a Cornell Woolrich story. There were a whole series of film noirs based on stories by him. When my father was on set and he was trying to figure out how to convey certain information he and his assistants and co-screen writers would ask either "How would Hitchcock do this?" or "How would Lubitsch do this?" With Lubitsch it was really the issue of how to bring information to the audience indirectly, purely visually, and have it very clear but have the audience intuit it. With Hitchcock it was probably along similar lines the idea of how much can you convey without dialogue. They were certainly not the only two directors he admired but often in terms of solving a problem, figuring out how to make sure the audience focused on something he wanted them to focus on and not on something else.

North Shore News: Another person that worked on the film was the cinematographer Raoul Coutard.

Laura Truffaut: They worked together from Shoot the Piano Player on.

North Shore News: I'm looking at a still from the film set and your dad is standing behind him shooting a scene with the camera set up on boxes.

Laura Truffaut: (Laughs) I don't think I went on the set at all. I went on location scouting once for the church scene. I'm not even sure where the film was filmed. My father preferred working away from Paris on location. It was easier. The beginning is at the south of France in Cannes.

North Shore News: Did your father visit America very often?

Laura Truffaut: Yes, starting with The 400 Blows. I think he felt extremely welcome in America and he received a really warm reception here. In the '70s he started spending a little more time in Los Angeles because he was really close to Jean Renoir and his wife and they lived in Beverly Hills. He liked visiting them regularly. In the early '70s he spent two summers in California for intensive English lessons to improve his fluency. He liked the atmosphere in Los Angeles. He liked the fact that it was an industry town - the movies were all people talked about and he enjoyed that.

North Shore News: For someone who is just learning about Truffaut are there any films you would recommend that they start with? What are your favourites?

Laura Truffaut: It's hard because these movies are so diverse. My favourites change with time. For instance I saw Two English Girls several times when I was younger but it's only when I saw it close to the age of 40 that it really resonated with me. Young people seem to be touched by both The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim. I love Shoot the Piano Player. I love Day for Night. There are some I haven't seen for a long time. I would love to see The Story of Adele H. which I haven't seen in quite awhile. I think a young person would respond more to Jules and Jim or The 400 Blows. The Wild Child is also a movie I love more each time I see it. The last time I saw The Bride Wore Black was a good 10 years ago. It's going to come here next week and I'm going to try and catch it when it's here. What's complicated about it is the main character - there's something at a remove about her. She's not really human. She's single-minded. She's not warm. I'm not sure if the audience is on her side, we're at a distance from her. (Moreau's character is very modern in a sense) and I think that was something that was a little hard fo me to experience when I was 10. Although the idea of a perfect love story I was very taken in with. I think I would be more interested in that now.

Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black begins its run at Pacific Cinémathèque tonight at 8: 50 p.m. Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend is screening first at 7 p.m.

 

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