Starring: Catherine Deneuve; Gerard Depardieu
Director: Francois Truffaut
Distributor: Umbrella World Cinema DVD
There have been many films about the German occupation of France but perhaps none so dramatic as Francois Truffaut’s The Last Metro. Centred, as it is, on the goings on at one of the many playhouses operating in Paris at the time, the film is as much a celebration of the world of the theatre as it is an expose of life under Nazi reign. As a means of escaping the grim reality of wartime, Parisians flocked to see the latest plays and so long as they caught the last metro or train home by the time the curfew fell, authorities tolerated their activities.
At the Theatre Montmatre, a new Norwegian play called Disappearance is being staged according to notes left by the esteemed director Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent). Being of Jewish descent, Steiner was forced to flee the occupied city, or so everyone believes, everyone that is except his wife, Marion (Catherine Deneuve). Truth is, Lucas is hiding out under the stage listening in on rehearsals via an air vent and studiously making notes on how to improve the production.
Swaddled in luxurious furs and sporting a coiffed chignon to die for, glamourpuss Deneuve cuts a supremely elegant figure as a former movie star returned to the theatre not only to tread the boards but to take over the management from her husband (the part was written especially for her following her collaboration with Truffaut on the 1967 noir thriller Mississipi Mermaind). Gerard Depardieu is also a scene-stealer as the young actor and revolutionary Bernard Granger whose lust for women is “like a craving for a warm croissant” – trouble for him is that some of those women prefer women.
Truffaut infuses the film with his own childhood memories of the occupation and with details gleaned from the extensive research he undertook with his collaborator Suzanne Schiffman. His sense of cinematic timing is impeccable, especially in the opening night sequence where he cuts between the action front-of-house, backstage, onstage and beneath stage. Using an understated, brooding style he delivers a classic ménage a trios that is also a strong statement about tolerance in general.