Victor

My morning doings were stopped short when I came across notices that Francois Truffaut would have been eighty years old today.

I’ve always made an effort to not overpersonalize the effect certain artists have on me—that is, to feel unearned proximity to people I don’t know. Their expressions may hit you in ways that make you feel like you’re somehow inside them, but their lives are their own, and by bathing overlong in an empathic glow you risk your life becoming something that isn’t fully your own. That said: I gasped when Truffaut died; the mere mention of a round number never reached sent me inside myself for hours on a day which needed to be more verb than noun; and the thirty years between have been marked with more sadness than not when thinking on him.

The slow tides of reputation are, for an enthusiast, often depressing. Has a looser, more generous filmmaker, one whose work is so full of casual delights, ever been so quickly consigned to the waxworks? The only explanation that made or makes sense to me is that Truffaut died at a point when a particular idea of him was hardening, a sense that he had become what he beheld – a purveyor of tasteful entertainments.  With death the stance became an idée fixe, and the bathwater that was thrown out by opinion makers contained one beautiful baby. Within his life and writing and films are pointed lessons in how to discover and assert one’s own taste by burrowing deeply into the work of others (in short, how to grow up) and how to become an artist and public citizen with passion and grace. Any tide which brings with it a happy reconsideration of Truffaut, even one more severe than I’m capable of, is one that can’t crash in too soon.

One might think that mourning for films that will never be made is a base sentiment, but what is mourning if not the selfish wish for a sensation you’ll never have again?  I love the films that certain old people make, the Bunuels, Hustons, Eastwoods and Lumets, those who have the will and vitality to keep bringing it, to find new veins and angles in life, and I’ve always been (sentimentally, yes) quite unshakable in my belief that Truffaut would have been one of them. I think it’s because I just plain trusted him. How could you not trust someone who made something as nimble and complicated as JULES AND JIM, as volcanic as THE STORY OF ADELE H? Or as steely, yet tender as

Oscar…

Nestor…

Victor?

And, again, Nestor…

As an actor – the confident movement, the delicacy of the gesture with the apple, the tilt of the head, the smile…

Godard, whose friendship with Truffaut fractured publically,  famously, and is most certainly one of those who is, through some combination of volition, genetics, and plain cussedness, still kicking it hard, wrote in the foreword to Truffaut’s collected letters, “Francois is perhaps dead. I am perhaps alive. But then, is there a difference?” At the risk of being terribly literal with the words of a man who is anything but that, I would have to say that there is a difference. All the difference in the world.

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