Tuesday, February 27, 2007


The reputation of François Truffaut's article A Certain Tendency of French Cinema as controversial seems to have escalated since its first publication in 1954. In the 1990s, director Bertrand Tavernier reproached Truffaut for having sweet talked screenwriter Pierre Bost into lending him a never filmed scenario of Diary of a Country Priest which Bost had prepared with his frequent collaborator, Jean Aurenche. Tavernier leveled this charge in two different venues; first, in a diary that he kept as he was filming L.627 which was published as Qu'est-ce qu'on attend? in 1993 and then was republished in an English translation entitled I Wake Up Dreaming in John Boorman's annual Projections 2 and as well, before the cameras for a documentary about Truffaut, Portraits volés, which Serge Toubiana and Michel Pascal fashioned that same year.
Tavernier's testimony in that documentary so impressed the reviewer for the New York Times, that he described it as "incriminating" a Truffaut who is culpable of "bending the facts". However, the case which the Times finds "incriminating" I find seriously flawed. Where that newspaper sees an unscrupulous journalist, I see one who was simply following a paper trail back to its primary source. It seems to me that they failed to consider one key piece of evidence. For almost fifty years, since October 1959 when Jacques Donoil-Valcroze cited A Certain Tendency in a history of Cahiers du Cinema which he wrote for hundredth number of the magazine in October 1959 as a milestone in the early history of the magazine, it would seem that no one has mentioned this document. Indeed, Antoine de Baecque, a former editor of Cahiers du Cinema, in an exhaustive essay that he wrote for Cinematheque in 1993 fails to consider this document. That is not surprising as it seems to be a fairly unique document> You would not expect to find a document like this. And then it is not the work of a cineaste but of a litterateur. Finding it in a library means wandering from the ML1990s to the PQ2600s. A short walk usually, but still a journey.
What document? The Bernanos letter. A letter written by Georges Bernanos the writer of the novel Diary of a Country Priest in which the explained why he had refused the screenplay adapted from that novel by Pierre Bost and Jean Aurenche which the weekly Samedi-Soir published in its issue of November 8, 1947. Strange circumstance --many screenplays are rejected but rarely are the resons for the rejection aired in public. This document set the groundwork up for A Certain Tendency. André Bazin's The Stylistics of Robert Bresson (Cahiers du Cinema, no. 3, June 1951 ) quotes from this letter in its presentation and its last sentence is animated by it. Truffaut's thesis sets out from that last sentence. And, it was that same André Bazin who oversaw Truffaut in the composition of A Certain Tendency.

Throughout this presentation, I will follow the procedure of setting all quoted text in dark red and of setting my commentary in dark blue.

The chapters for this expostition are:


Bertrand Tavernier's stories -- 1993

Henri Jeanson's story

Bertrand Tavernier's story -- 1984

The Bernanos Letter

Jean Aurenche's story

Pierre Bost's Letter

A Certain Tendency and the Bernanos Letter

André Bazin: The Stylistics of Robert Bresson


1932 François Truffaut born

1936 Publication of Georges Bernanos’ novel Diary of a Country Priest

1947 Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost write a film adaptation of Bernanos’s novel Diary of a Country Priest

1947(summer) Jean Aurenche flies to Tunis to seek Bernanos’s approval of their script. Bernanos rejects their scenario.

1947(October 4) The weekly Samedi-Soir publishes an account of the meeting between Aurenche and Bernanos furnished by Aurenche.

1947(November 8) Samedi-Soir publishes a long letter from Georges Bernanos refuting Aurenche’s account and detailing his reasons for rejecting Aurenche’s scenario.

1948(July 5) Georges Bernanos dies.

1949-1950 Robert Bresson writes and directs a film based on Diary of a Country Priest

1951(February) Bresson’s film premieres in Paris.

1951(April) Cahiers du Cinema publishes first issue. Table of contents page promises future articles from a group of people, among them - Pierre Bost

1951(June) André Bazin's The Sylistics of Robert Bresson appears in the third issue of Cahiers du Cinema

1951(August 16) Louis Jouvet dies

1951(August) Francois Truffaut serves the first month of a six-month sentence for going AWOL in Villemin hospital “in a state of physical and mental disrepair', which he emerged from only gradually.”

1952(November) François Truffaut borrows the rejected scenario for Diary of a Country Priest and three other screenplays from Pierre Bost

1954(January) François Truffaut’s A Certain Tendency of French Cinema in Cahiers du Cinema(no 31)

1956(September) Gervaise scripted by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost is released in Paris.

1956(October) La Traversée de Paris scripted by Aurenche and Bost is released in Paris.

1956(December 19) Truffaut publishes "In 1956 five great films, seven good films" in Arts issue no. 598

1971 Henri Jeanson’s memoir 70 ans d’adolescence (70 Years of Adolescence) is published.

1973 Bertrand Tavernier films The Clockmaker of St Paul with Aurenche and Bost as collaborators on the screenplay.

1975 Pierre Bost dies

1983 The Great French Films by James Reid Paris ; introduction by Francois Truffaut published

1984 Bertrand Tavernier interview in Film Comment

1984 François Truffaut dies

1992 Jean Aurenche dies

1993 Bertrand Tavernier publishes Qu-est-ce qu’on attend? which is translated into English in Projections 2 as I Wake Up Dreaming

1993 The documentary François Truffaut: Portraits volés released in Paris

Going off on a tangent, but -- If you brought up the page for the table of contents for the issue of Cahiers in which A Certain Tendency appeared, you might have noticed that André Bazin reviewed the film The Little Fugitive, a film which is landmark on the way towards Truffaut's debut film The Four Hundred Blows.

Continues with : Bertrand Tavernier's stories -- 1993

Bertrand Tavernier's stories 1993

Continues from: Timeline

Transcribed from the subtitles François Truffaut : portraits volés / un film de Serge Toubiana et Michel Pascal

One day I was alone with Bost working on The Watchmaker of St. Paul. I mentioned the article and asked if what Henri Jeanson wrote in his memoirs was true. That Truffaut had visited Bost, praised him to the skies and borrowed some of his papers including the script of Diary of a Country Priest which Aurenche was due to shoot as his directorial debut. It was only the first draft. Aurenche and Bost weren’t happy with it yet. Bost didn’t want to lend it to him but Truffaut talked him into it. All these documents, all these gifts and praises, resulted in that article. Truffaut wrote to Bost soon afterwards. He showed me the letter. Dear Pierre Bost, "My article probably surprised you. I didn’t mean all I said in it but I’m a young journalist with a career to make so I have to be outspoken even if it is unfair. I’ve always greatly admired you and your writing. I’m out to get Aurenche."

from Projections : a Forum for Filmmakers issue no. 2 -- I Wake up Dreaming (1993)

I meet Serge Toubiana and Michel Pascal who are working on a documentary on Truffaut, with whom I had a long and passionate relations. When he was a critic on Arts magazine I read him faithfully and even wrote to him a few times, particularly when he ripped The Searchers to pieces. I can still remember three films that defended vigorously and which I have never managed to see: South Sea Sinner(H Bruce Humberstone), No Sad Songs for Me(Rudolph Mate), High Lonesome(Alan Le May).
Truffaut even invited me to watch him shoot Les Quatres cents coups which I saw in its opening day at 2:00 P.M, as I did Tirez sur le pianiste, skipping classes in philosophy and law respectively. My first disappointment came with Jules and Jim (my opinion hasn't changed after seeing it recently); then, reading the memoirs of Henri Jeanson, I was shocked by what he really did to Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, after showering them with compliments. Bost confirmed the story when I was working on Clockmaker with him and Aurenche, and even showed me a letter from Truffaut that read: "You must have been surprised by the brutal tone of my article. You will understand that I am a young journalist, and to get myself noticed I have to adopt a polemical tone and not necessarily say what I think...I still have a great admiration for you. It's Aurenche I'm after."

If you have read and assimilated my timeline, you will realize that Tavernier :
A. has a fifteen year old François Truffaut ringing the door at the home of a stranger who happens to be a screenwriter and borrowing the first draft of a script which is being worked on and not returning it for six years;
B. has Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost slaving on a screenplay that Aurenche plans to direct, all the while blithely unaware that five years earlier, the copyright holder of the novel that their script is based had, after reviewing their final script for this project, categorically refused them permission to adapt his novel and that, a year earlier, an adaptation of that novel filmed by Robert Bresson had been released to great acclaim.

Neither of Bertand Tavernier's stories work within the schema of the timeline that I have set up.

Continues on: Henri Jeanson's story

Henri Jeanson's story

continues from: Bertrand Tavernier's stories 1993

from 70 ans d’adolescence by Henri Jeanson (translation mine)

Tell me how you started out, I will tell you who you are. The conditions in which Truffaut published his first article in Les Cahiers du Cinema are in the likeness of its author. they form an edifying anecdote which when I tell it in moments when the conversation is languishing, always is rewarded with its own humble succes de mesestime.
One day, Mr. Truffaut who wanted to his career to take off with a lightning start, requested from my friend Pierre Bost an interview which with his customary granted him.
Scarcely had he entered, “Oh, Monsieur Bost, how happy I am to get to know you. Imagine that I have admired you since 1944,” - he was twelve years old - I have read all your novels. Homicide par imprudence, Hercule et Mademoiselle, M. Ladmiral va bientot mourir. I know that you have been or are the friend of Gide, Camus, Saint-Exupéry, Paulhan, Copeau, Prévert, Fargue, Martin du Gard, Queneau, Alain and Jouvet who, on stage, has acted in your plays.”
“I thank you.”
“And I know that your name with that of your collaborator, Jean Aurenche, figures in the credits of some of the films which i like the most, Forbidden Games, Le Diable au corps, La Traversée de Paris, Le Château de verre, Gervaise...
“I thank you”
“I am sorry to request your discretion, this is what brings me here; I have been told that you have written with Aurenche a screenplay for Georges Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest.”
“That is right. but it was not filmed because it was not to liking of Bernanos.”
“He was certainly wrong.”
“No, for he knows his work better than us. It is within him always but within us only momentarily. A great difference.”
“I would like to ask you - but dare I ?”
“Go right ahead.”
“-to ask you to entrust your screenplay to me. I am so curious, so passionate for all that you have done. It need not be said that I will return it to you in forty-eight hours and that I will speakk of it to no one. I can keep a secret. Word of honor.
“Well then, take it. it is yours.
“Oh, thank you for this token of trust. I will not disappoint you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
And there is how some days later there appeared, in Truffaut’s name, a savaging - this time mercilessly - of Aurenche and Bost and their adaptation.

Such is this Truffaut who learned of the death of [Louis] Jouvet with a certain joy.
“I can not say,” he declared, “that I rejoice, only almost. He has made a pile of anti-cinema declarations. Oh well he is dead, too bad for him.”

Jeanson's story is rendered a little credible when you know that Truffaut had written this in an article for the weekly Arts, "This year, Aurenche and Bost proved themselves indispensible with La Traversée de Paris which they wanted to be clever and new, as well as with Gervaise which they wanted academic and conventional: according to what you want, they will "wrap it up" very neatly." (from The Early film Criticism of François Truffaut by Wheeler Winston Dixon, translation here by Sonja Kropp). In that article, Truffaut selected La Traversée de Paris which Aurenche and Bost wrote the screenplay for as one of the five best French films of the year. But, in context of Jeanson's story, here's the rub, the year was 1956 and the article was printed in the Dec 19 issue of Arts. Truffaut had had kudos for both films; however, neither film was made until 1956. So while Tavernier seems to have Truffaut borrowing the screenplay long before he did, Jeanson has him borrowing the screenplay almost three years after he wrote A Certain Tendency.
Jeanson had a certain skill with words and his memoirs can make for entertaining reading, but they could scarcely be termed history; indeed, because of the virtual non-presence of Julien Duvivier, it could just about not be termed a memoir. Jeanson as a scenarist is probably best known for his collaborations with the director Julien Duvivier with whom he collaborated on Pépé le Moko and seven other films. That being said, one would assume that Jeanson would refer to primary collaborator simply as Julien and that the memoir would flush with Duvivier anecdotes. But in some 350 pages, I could only find three instances where Duvivier gets as much as a passing mention. Jeanson tells his reader nothing of Pépe le Moko nor anything of Le Carnet du bal
or any of his other noted collaborations with Duvivier. Duvivier only rates two passing mentions, and then towrads the end of the book, Duvivier is thrown what appears to me to be a dig in a long screed directed at François Truffaut. One is left to wonder if Duvivier's relationship with Truffaut is at the root of Jeanson's omission here. (for insight into the relations Duvivier-Truffaut please see my post Julien Duvivier and François Truffaut)
There is also the reference to Truffaut's coldness at Louis Jouvet's death because Jouvet made "a pile of anti-cinema declarations". I have tried to run down the actual quote - if there is such a quote - and I can discover no listing in Eugene Walz's François Truffaut a guide to references and resources in which this statement might have been made. Of course, Truffaut might have said it in an interview. Either way it would have been spoken too long enough after Jouvet's death to have been a case of disrespect. Were it that Truffaut made this statement on the occasion of Louis Jouvet's death in August 1951, it must be wondered upon how Jeanson would know. At that time, Truffaut was still not a journalist; in fact Truffaut was in Villemin Hospital - and not in the best of mental and physical condition - in August 1951, when Jouvet died. So it is doubtful that he made it then and if he did, then who was Jeanson's informer?

continues at: Bertrand Tavernier's story -- 1984

Bertrand Tavernier's story 1984

continues from: Henri Jeanson's story

from Film Comment October 1984

The New Wave had destroyed people unjustly. Truffaut’s famous attack singled out Aurenche’s script for Les Orgeilleux in which a point is made verbally when the hero decides to cross the word “tenderness” out of the telegram. He unfairly compared a dialogue scene to a visual one in Hitchcock’s “Under Capricorn” where Michael Wilding waves his jacket by the window for Ingrid Bergman to see. It was a vicious comparison. The fault was not in the writing - Hitchcock or Scorcese would have made that scene well with the same dialogue - but in the mise-en-scene. By the same token, I wonder if the credit for Hitchcock’s scene should have been given to the screenwriter.
Truffaut later wrote Bost a letter which I read, in which he stated that he did not believe a word of what he himself had written. He said he was a young critic who had to get ahead and therefor wrote controversial articles. Two weeks after he published his attack, he wrote Bost,, “I admire you greatly. I really meant to attack Aurenche and not you.” Bost never showed the letter to Aurenche. Twenty years later when I read it, I asked why he never published it. “I didn’t want to use the same methods Truffaut used.”
Truffaut who's a wonderful director was right about several points, about the way some films were shot, about the production system. But I reject all labels and categories. To lump so many directors as the "tradition de la qualité" or the "New Wave" or now "la nouvelle qualité francaise" is the best way to ignore the individuality of each filmmaker. I'd say the definition of "tradition de la qualité" applies when academism stands in the way of expressing emotion.But, in certain films by Allegret, Jean Delannoy, Julien Duvivier, and most of Claude Autant-Lara, I do recognize a personality, sometimes and sometimes it isn’t, but it’s there. Many of Autant-Lara’s films minus Aurenche and Bost weren’t great. These are intermittent auteurs, But films like Duvivier’s Panique or Voici les temps des assassins... or Autant-Lara’s En cas du malheur are simply great.

In the first paragraph, Tavernier implies that in A Certain Tendency, Truffaut attacked Jean Aurenche's screenplay for Les Orgeillux. That must be the case since Truffaut's only famous attack was A Certain Tendency. Truffaut did, indeed, write this:
In Les Orgueilleux, Michele Morgan, recently widowed and at the end of her resources, sends a telegram to her family requesting them to send her money. The employee at the post office counts the number of words and tells her the amount; then, Michele Morgan asks him, "remove tenderness".
So here is an idea as one finds in nearly all French films, it is not the idea of a director, Yves Allegret, but of the dialogue writer, Jean Aurenche. It has the double merit of "doing the necessary" and of making one think of Genevieve Agel. It has in contrast the triple inconvenience of being low, of making every spectator an intellectual, and of affirming the superiority of the creators over their characters since Michele Morgan is not aware of the cruelty of her "word of childhood". (my translation)
But he wrote that in an article entitled A Bunch of False Clues which appeared in the October 1954 issue of Cahiers du Cinema. That article certainly is not "famous". Also, far from being any kind of "attack", it is actually a homage to Hitchcock. Also, Aurenche is not "singled out" - the director of that film, Yves Allegret, is also cited. And if you think through Truffaut criticism, it does seem that Truffaut's point is that Yves Allegret's botched the direction. When, in a homage to one director, you unfavorably compare the direction of scene by another director whom you have named, it must be that you intend a criticism of the latter. Look closely and you realize that Tavernier's point in October of 1984 was the same point Truffaut was amiking in October of 1954.
But this is not the only time in that passage that Tavernier echoes ideas which Truffaut had expressed thirty years previous. Tavenier says. "
Many of Autant-Lara’s films minus Aurenche and Bost weren’t great". In December 1956, writing an year-end summary of French film for that year for Arts, Truffaut wrote,“As far as the excellent La Traversée de Paris is concerned, I regret that Autant-Lara should be the exception that proves the rule of the auteurs’ policy, since, working on a screenplay written by Aurenche and Bost, he does a better job than when he is his own screenwriter (see Marguerite de la nuit)". Again, it sounds like the same idea to me. Truffaut goes on in that article to write, "This year, Aurenche and Bost proved themselves indispensable with La Traversée de Paris which they wanted to be clever and new, as well as with Gervaise, which they wanted academic and conventional; according to what you want, they will “wrap it up” very neatly.” (The last two quotes are from The early film criticism of François Truffaut / by Wheeler Winston Dixon (translation Sonja Kropp) page 155)
Tavernier begins by complaining that the New Wave destroyed a lot of careers. He ends by citing three films which he says are "simply great". What is a reader left to do other than to infer that the so-called "young turk" critics overlooked that greatness. However, I must note here considering En cas du malheur that in Arts in 1957 Truffaut wrote a review of that film which mostly positive. He saw that it as a film which prepared the average filmgoer for Ingmar Bergman. As for Voici les temps des assassins..., as Eric Bonnefille points out in his biography, Julien Duvivier Le mal amant du cinema francais, that film on its release in 1956 was by and large poorly received in 1956. However, a small group of critics did coalesce to defend the film. And it gathered itself around the film's most vociferous defender, François Truffaut who reviewed the film for Arts and included André S Labarthe, Jacques Donoil-Valcroze, and Alexander Astruc - Astruc, along with Truffaut, took the "for" side in a debate on the merits of the film in Arts with R M Arlaud taking the "against" side.

Other issues to ponder
"A quick survey of Cahiers collection will prove that a good deal of Autant-Lara’s films were defended there. Particularly, the last five, about which, whatever one thinks, one must recognize an impact, a force, an actuality." --- Jean Narboni Cahiers du Cinema March 1967
Also see my study "Claude Autant-Lara and Cahiers du Cinema"

continues at: The Bernanos Letter

The Bernanos Letter

continues from: Bertrand Tavernier's story 1984

from Correspondance de Georges Bernanos collected by Albert Béguin, chosen and presented by Sister Jean Murray, O.P. Tome II, 1934-1938 (pages 732-735)

Letter to Samedi-Soir

It is known that a first screenplay of Diary of a Country Priest, signed by J Aurenche was turned down by Bernanos. The filmmaker having given, after a stormy interview, an inaccurate account of his meeting with Bernanos, the latter answered with the following letter which was published in the weekly on November 8, 1947:

I have only very belatedly taken cognizance of an article which appeared in Samedi-Soir on the 4 October. It provides me the opportunity to cheer myself up at my own expense (which is a most salutary exercise) and, a bit also - let me say it - at the expense of your poorly informed readers, for the minor and private scenario of my meeting with Mr Aurenche appears to be almost as faulty as the book itself.
It does not matter! It is certainly disagreeable, regarding so minor and purely professional in character, to watch as my wife, my daughters and the intimacy of my home are made suspect. But what can I do? These are vexations which it would be necessary to foresee on schedule and even then we would never be free to spare ourselves the unpleasantness.
One of the constraints of the profession of writer, in fact, as elsewhere, sometimes that of doctor, is that neither is performed outdoors nor in a shop nor an office, and both equally do not always have the ability to receive those who please them.
So let us go back to Curé de campagne. After the publication of the article in Samedi-Soir, some readers have well wanted to demonstrate their disapproval of the filming of Journal. They know, at least, from now on, I am still reserving the right to intervene in the case where it appears to me to falsify the very spirit of that book.
I believe that a true novelist, I mean a man who genuinely dreams his book - or who draws the greater part of its situations or characters from a depth of subconscious experience which is certainly for me that of precious, irreplaceable and incommunicable experiences which the crisis of adolescence almost always makes fall back into darkness - will never have the hubris to control the filmmaker as a fastidious writer controls a translator, for example.
Such an idea could come only to a sham novelist who compiles his tales with observations gathered from day to day in a notebook. It is clear to me that the filmmaker must dream anew the dream of the novelist. The rights of the latter on that dream pertain only to its spirit. It is the spirit of my book that I fear I see being cruelly falsified.
Since, much in spite of myself, my refusal of Mr. Aurenche’s work has been made public by him, no one is capable of refusing me the right to say that I have in no way on this occasion yielded to a simple fit of ill-temper.
In order to make judges of this debate the small number of readers of Samedi-Soir who are also mine - and to excuse myself to the rest - I would like to bring as briefly as possible to the cognizance of my friends, sometimes more interested than me in the fate of my books, the beginning and the end of this scenario, which happens to eliminate the curé of Torcy, Doctor Delbende, Doctor Laville, the young Foreign Legion lieutenant, in brief, the greater part of the characters thanks to which I have attempted to give to my novel a significance other than that of The Counterfeiters, for example, and in which the episodic character of Sulpice Mitonnet takes on an unforeseen importance, undoubtedly for the fact that he can be suspected of pederasty.
At beginning of the scenario, on the occasion of their daughter Chantal‘s birthday, the lord and lady of my imaginary town go to genuflect before the altar. Soon after, Chantal 'puts her missal on the prie-Dieu , opens it partway and spits the communion host between the pages'. Yet a little later, having handed the host back to the curé who hastens to consume it, the young girl coldly remarks 'You're swallowing what I swallowed. Doesn't that disgust you?'.
Let us pass now from the beginning to the ending. This ending is provided through the words of one Arsene, mentioned incidentally in the course of the book, but without any place within the context which could give him any particular importance. Before the gravesite of my hero, this unhappy character declares with the solemnity of an imbecile, 'When you are dead, everything is dead, everything is dead'. The filmed version of Diary od a Country Priest concludes with these words of hopelessness.
This is not the place for an appraisal of the habits and character of Mr. Aurenche. As for his talent, the moment would be badly chosen after the success of Diable au corps to place it in doubt. But this success of Diable au corps will perhaps permit me to end this letter, where there has been much too much discussion of myself, with some reflections of a more general character.
The distortion which the cinema puts some works through is not accountable to the filmmakers. In today’s climate of literary opinion, I say that a work distorts itself by itself, as in the mind which conceives it, it is born deformed. It is a great error to compare the public to a bored drinker who each time demands a stronger drink capable of reawakening his palate. The public is not bored, it is depleted.
Nervous fatigue is, today, a universal evil. The major sign of this fatigue is not, as imbeciles believe they can note it, an aggressive sexuality, but on the contrary, a curiously passive one, despite its gluttony, as quickly sated as excited, as that of early adolescence.
Now, Radiguet’s book is exactly, as the example of the early poems of Rimbaud, the erotic dream - and one which can be completely gratuitous - of a schoolboy whose sensual imagination is, happily for us, more difficult to satisfy than one of Mr. Mauriac’s characters.
In their own ways, this goes without saying, the first poems of Rimbaud, like Le Diable au corps are masterpieces of onanism, but Le Diable au corps would be rather a cold onanism which must certainly have escaped the good Dominican fathers of Paris who came and applauded the film.
After all, it certainly is not Mr. Aurenche’s fault, nor any of those whose role it is to serve as intermediary between the artist and the public, if the novelistic literature of today, and most particularly the American novelistic literature with its brand of measured frenzy, its obscenity as diligent, as naively realistic as that of a phallus drawn on the margins of a schoolboy’s notebook, is to be found today under the sign of Onan.
The good Dominicans were not wrong, without doubt, to demonstrate surprise over the scandal made around Mr. Aurenche’s film, if I rely on certain critics, the scandal lies not in what is seen there, but in what it is claimed that one sees there for us.
I’ll explain myself. When a young person, at the Louvre, remains in an ecstatic state before the nudity of a beautiful marble or bronze adolescent, nothing can be said of either the young person or the statue, so long as one does not notice that the regard of the lover of antiquities stays strictly fixed on the place where the modest artist reserved for a fig-leaf.
One can say only that this young person is perverse, he is obsessed. Today’s literature is obsessed. Through conversations, criticism, the obsession of the public finally reacts all the way to ancient works, and we understand, indeed, that it will little by little profoundly modify its character. It is assuredly most simple to find in Diary of a Country Priest the material for one of those “news items” from which Mr. Gide, with his pincers and his cold-packs, knew how in other times to extract some drops of a viscous liquid, bitter and burning.
At the trial of Madame Lafarge, the great Orfila demonstrated as in olden times that you can draw arsenic from a fat cigar. The modern world looks and finds arsenic everywhere, but it does not know how to use it or it uses it only in one sole aim, always the same. The modern world is not perverse, in the sense that the divine marquis could give it this word, and when it boasts of being it, this is in the manner of a child who tears the wings from a fly.
Humanity always wants the bad, but it less and less succeeds in grasping it, more often it makes gestures and grimaces, even when these grimaces are those of a face smeared with blood, and the gestures are deadly. Since, for nervously worn-out modern man, the bad is not a revolt but a flight, a way of distracting oneself - distrahere - to run off outside of himself, of stripping himself of his person, alas, as a snake does his skin, this is why, meanwhile, he less and less knows how to do it without the aid of the machine or of narcotics.
The modern world will soon no longer have enough spiritual reserves to really commit the bad, and already one part of its literature, which terms itself the most advanced in the accursed way and certainly is making its precursors smile in the graves that it has the pretension to exceed, announces, without knowing it, as well an augury, this failure or rather this relaxation, this moral laxity of the conscience of men who do not seek only their moral life, but also the sensory life, alters and decomposes their own imagination.
At the end of its desperate efforts to say it all, a certain literature will say everything, but express nothing. The crisis which threatens it is a crisis of infantilism.

Try as I might, I can not recall any other instance where the reasons for the rejection of a screenplay were aired in public. Rejected screenplays are usually dispatched to the dead letter file. No wonder that Antoine de Baecque never cites this letter in his study ot the composition of A Certain Tendency. No one would have ever thought to search out a document such as this one. I have seen a few times "cruelly falsified" and "dream again..." quoted but never with any citation. I found this letter because one day in the French Library and Cultural Center in Boston I was browsing Michel Esteve's Robert Bresson : la passion du cinématographe and he quotes extensively from the letter.

continues at: Jean Aurenche's story

Jean Aurenche's story

continues from: The Bernanos Letter

from La Suite à l'écran : entretiens by Jean Aurenche, a book of interviews of Jean Aurenche which was published by the Institut Lumière. Bertrand Tavernier is the president of that institution and he served as one of Aurenche's interviewers, although the book never credits the interviewer so it is not possible to know who Jean Aurenche was talking to here.

"Let me speak of a failure: Diary of a Country Priest. It was a good book on which I worked with Bost. Departing from my principles, I even envisaged directing this upcoming film with a producer who was interested. I went to show the adaptation to Bernanos who was residing on the seacoast near Tunis. Our project scarcely interested him. He listened politely to a reading of the script and said, “I won’t be opposed to your making the film, but I find nothing of my novel in it.”

Two points here. The first goes without saying, Jean Aurenche's account of his meeting with Georges Bernanos comes nowhere close to tallying with the account that Bernanos gives in his letter. The second point which should be noted is that
Aurenche does not seem to have been asked to specify his reaction to the publication of A Certain Tendency. So, there seems to be no evidence that Jean Aurenche ever knew that Pierre Bost lent the screenplay for Diary of a Country Priest to François Truffaut. It's six of one and half a dozen of the other whether he knew or not; Pierre Bost would not have had to tell Aurenche when he lent Truffaut the script that he had, but he certainly might have told him. So, Aurenche could have read A Certain Tendency in January 1954 and simply assumed that Truffaut had used the Bernanos letter as his source. This leads to an alternative theory as to why Bost did not show Aurenche Truffaut's letter. If Bost had not told Aurenche that he had lent Truffaut that screenplay before Truffaut's piece was published, then, once that article was published, Bost might not have wanted to admit to Aurenche what that he had made the "mistake" of lending Truffuat that screenplay.

Matter for study-- what did Aurenche tell Samedi-Soir in October 1947?

continues at: Pierre Bost's letter

Pierre Bost's letter

continues from: Jean Aurenche's story

Truffaut / Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana ; translated from the French by Catherine Temerson (page 399)

"Dear Sir, your article in Cahiers du Cinema contains some things that are intelligent, some things that are unfair, and others that are inaccurate. But there is also something else - and this is the only matter I will bring up today. In my day, one did not come to a person's house to borrow writings, make public use of them, and exploit them for acerbic criticism. Especially not confidential writings, since we are talking about a script that has not yet been filmed. I admit that your behavior surprised me, and that I will now feel a mistrust that is not in my nature - here's the proof. I do not hold any of your reproaches against you . I only wish that none of the many details that you give should come from me (after all, I may have spoken to you too and your piece sometimes takes on the tone of a police report). In any case, you lack elegance. I'm sorry to tell you so, but I'm entitled to say at least that."

This seems to me to be the work of a man who is in a deep and desperate state of denial. The way that team Aurenche-Bost operated was that Aurenche was the half that was too likely to go off on a two-week lunch and Bost was solid side of the equation who kept Aurenche's erratic propenisties in check. Yet, here, Bost acts like a man who unconscious of the world around him. Seven years after Georges Bernanos published a letter that revealed all the "confidential" material that Truffaut "made public", Bost seems to be unaware of any of the affair. Three years after Bresson's film was released , he seems to be stating that his and Aurenche's version is still in the pipeline. Three years after Truffaut's mentor, André Bazin quoted that letter in a long essay on Bresson's film in an issue of Cahiers du Cinema where Bost names is trumpeted in the table of contents as a future contributor to Cahiers, Bost writes as if nothing of this happened.

An agreement between Truffaut and Bost??

Since, when Bost handed Truffaut that screenplay he certainly must have know that he was furnishing the young journalist with a document that was controversial, then he had to have set guidelines as to its usage. As he could scarcely have denied Truffaut the right to discuss what had already been discussed, it would seem reasonable speculation that he requested that Truffaut not communicate details except where those details had already been made public. Truffaut, indeed, reports nothing outside of what Bernanos reported. The only major difference between Truffaut and Bernanos is that where Bernanos had summarized a scene, Truffaut quotes from the screenplay.

In his essay on the writing of A Certain Tendency which appeared in Cinematheque no.4 Antoine de Baecque states that while Truffaut was in Andernach military prison in 1951, the year before he began to write that article, he spent his time reading a serialized version of Raymond Radiguet's novel Le Diable au corps which was appearing in the newspaper Ici Paris and that, from this reading, he drew up a list of numerous "equivalance-betrayals" (scenes created by the scriptwriter because he deemed the printed version unfilmable) in the Aurenche-Bost filmed version of that novel which had been released in 1953.

Bernanos in his letter while he only specifies two examples in the Aurenche-Bost screenplay of where his novel was "cruelly falsified". He specifies though serial violations betraying the spirit of his novel in that screenplay. Now, the few instances of "equivalence-betrayals" in the Aurenche-Bost screenplay of Diary of a Country Priest which Truffaut reports coincide with the instances which especially raised Bernanos's ire. Truffaut reports no "equivalence-betrayals" in the handling of the diary writing, none in the communion class scene, none in the medallion scene, nor in the scene with the canon. Bresson's film is renowned for its fidelity to its source material. If Truffaut found none of his "equivalence-betrayals" other than where Bernanos reported his misgivings, then one would have to assume that the Aurenche-Bost screenplay hew close to the one Bresson provided for himself. By all rights, Truffaut should have been able to produce a thick dossier of "equivalence-betrayals". He did not. Bernanos's letter makes it plain that he should have been able to. This circumstance seems to suggest that either Truffaut was abiding by an expressed arrangement or, in the case of no arrangement, he felt himself limited only to the material already public.
And what to make of this sentence, "
I only wish that none of the many details that you give should come from me (after all, I may have spoken to you too and your piece sometimes takes on the tone of a police report)." The statement outside the parenthesis seems straight forward, until you try to understand it with the statement in the parenthesis. It seems to me that any attempt to infer meaning would have to be only pure speculation. And then the two clauses inside the parenthesis. They don't seem to me to have any relationship to each other, but there they both are. joined by a conjunction and enclosed in a parenthesis. Bost appears to be too precise a writer for it not to have a specific meaning.
Truffaut had written Bost a short note of thanks immediately after returning the manuscripts which read, "I didn't expect that reading these screenplays would be so fruitful and revealing. That's my excuse, as well as the desire not to leave anything to chance and to do a comprehensive job. I hope I haven't put these documents to too bad a use. With all my gratitutude and respectful good wishes." (Truffaut / Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana ; translated from the French by Catherine Temerson page 75). Toubiana and de Baecque describe this as a "malicious, rude note", but they think that Truffaut mined the Diary of a Country Priest for his attack. But knowing that Truffaut was mixing in to what was already a controversy, it reads more like a genuine thank-you note. Had Truffaut wanted to be rude and malicious, he could have done the comprehensive job that Bernanos suggest could have been done with that screenplay.
Also, I have to believe that this is the letter which Tavernier read in 1973 and which he is remembering through the haze of misconceptions.

continues at: A Certain Tendency and the Bernanos letter

A certain tendency and the Bernanos letter

continues from: Pierre Bost's letter

This is the section of "A Certain Tendency of French Cinema" that deals with Diary of a Country Priest. It is my translation. For my translation of the entire essay, click here, and you will be taken to my regular blog.

What troubles me about this much talked about process of equivalence is that I am not at all certain that a novel includes scenes that are not filmable, and yet less certain that the scenes ordained as not filmable be so for everyone. Praising Robert Bresson for his faithfulness to Georges Bernanos, Andre Bazin finished his excellent article, The Style of Robert Bresson with these words, “After The Diary of a Country Priest, Aurenche and Bost are nothing more than the Viollet-Leduc of adaptation.”

All those who know well and admire Bresson’s film remember the admirable scene in the confessional where Chantal’s face “began to appear little by little, par degrees” (Georges Bernanos). When several years prior to Bresson, Aurenche had written an adaptation of Diary of a Country Priest, an adaptation rejected by Georges Bernanos, Aurenche judged that scene to be not filmable and substituted the scene reproduced here:

“Do you want me to hear you here?” (He points to the confessional.)

“I never go to confession”

“However, you must have gone to confess yesterday since you received communion this morning”

“I did not receive communion”.He looks at her, very surprised.

“Pardon me I gave you communion”.

She move rapidly towards the pew that she had occupied that morning.“Come and see”

The priest follows her. Chantal points to the missal she had left there.“Look in this book, Monsieur. I probably no longer have the right to touch it.”

The priest, most intrigued, opens the book and discovers between two pages the host there that Chantal had spit out. His face is dumbfounded and shattered.“I spit the host out” Chantal says.

“I see” the priest says in neutral tones.

“You have never seen that, have you?” Chantal says, hard and almost triumphant.

“No, never” the priest says appearing calm.

“And do you know what must be done?”

The priest closes his eyes for a brief second, thinking it over or praying. He says “ This is very simple to repair, Miss. But it is horrible to commit.”He heads towards the altar carrying the open book.

Chantal follows him.“No it is not horrible. what is horrible is to receive the host in a state of sin.“

“So you are in a state of sin”

“Less than others. but it is all the same to them.”

“Do not judge”.

“I don’t judge, I condemn.” Chantal says violently.

“Be quiet before the body of Christ.”He kneels before the altar, takes the host from the book and shallows it.

A discussion on faith in the middle of the novel pitted the priest against an obtuse atheist named Arsene. “When one dies, everything dies”. This discussion in the Aurenche-Bost adaptation takes place over the priest’s grave between Arsene and a different priest and ends that film. “When one dies, everything dies” would have been the last line of that film. The one that carried it. Maybe, the only one that the public remembered. Bernanos did not conclude with, “When one dies, everything dies” but “Whatever happens, all is grace”.“To invent without betrayal”, you say. It seems to me to be a case of quite a little bit of invention for a great deal of betrayal. A detail or two still. Aurenche and Bost could not make Diary of a Country Priest because Bernanos was living. Robert Bresson has declared that, Bernanos being alive, he would have taken more liberty with the book. So, Aurenche and Bost are inconvenienced by Bernanos’ being alive, while Robert Bresson is inconvenienced by Bernanos’ being dead..

Truffaut, unless for some reason he cut short the ending of the scene between Chantal and the priest, shows a slight discrepancy between the screenplay and the Bernanos's resumé. Bernanos has Chantal taunt the curé of Ambricourt for swallowing the host that she had spit out, while Truffaut's report does not bear Bernanos's memory out in this one small regard. Since Truffaut would have no reason to suppress that incident, it is most likely that this is a case of Bernanos projecting himself into the scene. Small difference, but interesting.

continues at:
André Bazin and the stylistics of Robert Bresson

Andre Bazin: The stylistics of Robert Bresson

continues from: A Certain Tendency and the Bernanos letter

from Andre Bazin What is cinema? Essays selected and translated by Hugh Gray. [Foreword by Jean Renoir]

Admittedly Bresson has done his best to cover his tracks. His avowal of fidelity to the original from the first moment that he embarked on the adaptation, his declared intention of following the book word-for-word conditioned us to look for just that and the film only serves to prove it. Unlike Aurenche and Bost, who were pre-occupied with the optics of the screen and the balance of their drama in its new form. Bresson, instead of building up the minor characters like the parents in Le Diable au corps, eliminated them. He prunes even the very essentials, giving an impression as he does of a fidelity unable to sacrifice one single word without a pucker of concern and a thousand preliminary twinges of remorse. again, this pruning is always in the interest of simplification, never of addition. It is no exaggeration to say that if Bernanos had written the screenplay he would have taken greater liberties with his novel. He had, indeed, explicitly recognized the right of the adaptor to make use of his book according to the requirements of the cinema, the right that is "to dream his story over."
However, if we praise Bresson for his fidelity, it is for the most insidious kind of fidelity, a most pervasive form of creative license. Of course, one can not adapt without transposing. In that respect Bernanos was on the side of aesthetic common sense. Literal translations are not the faithful ones. The changes that Aurenche and Bost made to Le Dialble au corps are almost all entirely justified in principle. A character on the screen and the same character as evoked by the novelist are not identical. (page 126-127)

After Bresson, Aurenche and Bost are but the Viollet-le-Duc of cinematographic adaptation. (page 143)

For those who can not make the "Viollet-le-Duc" allusion, the Encyclopedia Brittanica site says this about the 19th century restoration architect Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc "his later restorations show that he often added entirely new elements of his own design. Twentieth-century archaeologists and restorers have severely criticized these fanciful reconstructions and added structures posing as restorations, for they often destroy or render obscure the original form of the edifice."

That closing reference to Viollet-le-Duc in The Stylistics of Robert Bresson seems on a contemporary reading somewhat gratutious as little said in the essay to explain it. However, in the summer of 1951 less than four years after the publication of Bernanos's letter most readers of Cahiers would have grasped its topicality.
In 1952, after being released from military prison, François Truffaut move in with André and Janine Bazin in Bryce-sur-Marne. As Janine Bazin explained later on, Truffaut and her husband would spend hours in mutually educative conversation which would leave one unsure where person ended and the other one began. Bazin ended his essay with that bald statement comparing Aurenche-Bost to Viollet-le-Duc. Truffaut's essay starts out from that statement and attempts to justify it. When one realizes that the information that Truffaut uses to make his argument was information that was available for Bazin to appraise, one has now to ponder the question, "Where exactly in 'A Certain Tendency' does Bazin end and Truffaut begin?".

Monday, February 26, 2007


This was added on November 25

Whose screenplay is it, anyways?

As I have been rethinking my original thesis in the last month or so, I have found myself coming back to the question: Whose screenplay is it anyways?
Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost prepared an adaptation of copy-written material. That adaptation was rejected (and not by a producer who contracted them for the adaptation, but by the holder of the copyright on the underlying material). They can't pitch that material to another producer (at least one would think not). They can't take it to an editor and see it published in print. As long as they were paid as contracted and as any effort to carry forward with that screenplay see them credited, they can't claim much else. This would seem to imply that the "intellectual rights" to that property remain with the holder of the rights to the underlying material. In this case, Georges Bernanos, and , after his death, his heirs. Thus, it would seem that it is most correct to say that Pierre Bost lent -at least in the case of the adaptation of Diary of a Country Priest - a sheaf of papers on which was printed a screenplay which belonged to the heirs of Georges Bernanos. In addition to the screenplay for Diary of a Country Priest, Pierre Bost loaned Truffaut three other screenplays. He let him take home the screenplay for The Pastoral Symphony which had been filmed in 1946. And that for Dieu a besoin des hommes (God Needs Men) which had been released in 1950. Truffaut was also allowed to examine the screenplay for Le Blé en herbe - from the Colette novel - which Truffaut reveals in an end-note had been prepared by Aurenche and Bost in 1946 but which was not filmed until a few months after Truffaut borrowed the screenplay. That film was released on January 20 1954, almost simultaneously with appearance on the January 1954 issue of Cahiers du Cinema in which A Certain Tendency was first published. In that same note, Truffaut discussing Claude Autant-Lara (for whom the Aurenche-Bost screenplay for Le Blé en herbe had been prepared) unsuccessful plagiarism suit brought against Roger Leenhardt for his similarly themed 1948 film Les Drenières vacances. Leenhardt, it has to be noted, was André Bazin's mentor as a film critic and thus could be considered something of an arrière-mentor of Truffaut's. Truffaut also reveals that the "profaned host" scene which Aurenche and Bost had prepared for their version of Diary of a Country Priest had been inserted into their screenplay for the similarly themed Dieu a besoin des hommes from Henri Queffelec's novel Le recteur de Île de Sein. It does seem to me that we have something for the magistrate's here. Whose screenplay was the Aurenche-Bost version of Diary of a Country Priest anyways? As I have said, it would seem to me that that screenplay is the property of the detainer of the rights to the underlying material. It would seem to me that if the heirs of Georges Bernanos (Bernanos died in 1948, about a year after his ennuis with Jean Aurenche) sued for plagiarism, that the fact that Aurenche and Bost cannibalized, partially at least, their screenplay for Country Priest to write the later film would go a great way towards making the case. The question needs to be posed, to what extent had the Aurenche-Bost screenplay for Country Priest morphed into the screenplay for Dieu a besoin des hommes? One person who had the chance to study that question was François Truffaut to whom Bost had lent both screenplays. This might explain the reference to a "police report" in Bost's note to Truffaut written after A Certain Tendency was published, "I only wish that none of the many details that you give should come from me (after all, I may have spoken to you too and your piece sometimes takes on the tone of a police report). Also, With his Benedictine memory of the films he had seen, Truffaut may have immediately picked up on the similarities between the two projects and his aim in borrowing both screenplays could have been to investigate just this point."

This has been added on Feb 2 2008

Which screenplay is it, anyways?

Speaking specifically about François Truffaut's borrowing of the early and rejected Aurenche-Bost screenplay for Diary of a Country Priest, in the interview which he gave to Serge Toubiana and Michel Pascal for the documentary Portraits volées, Bertrand Tavernier says "All these documents, Bertrand Tavernier all these gifts and praises, resulted in that article[A Certain Tendency of French Cinema]". As I have demonstrated above, François Truffaut could have written that article without recourse to studying that screenplay. That material which he needed had been revealed by Georges Bernanos in a letter written in 1947.
In the latter which Pierre Bost wrote to Truffaut after that article was published, Bost wrote,

"Surtout pas des textes en somme confidentials puisqu'il s'agit d'un scénario qui n'a pas été tournée." (François Truffaut by Antoine de Baecque, Serge Toubiana Paris : Gallimard, 1996 page 585 )

Catherine Temerson in her translation of the Toubiana-de Baecque biography translates that as,
"Especially not confidential writings, since we are talking about a script that has not yet been filmed." (page 399 in the English translation of Francois Truffaut by Serge Toubiana and Antoine de Baecque published by Knopf in 1999.)
This is a perfectly valid translation if one follows the drift of the story as narrated by Toubiana and de Baecque, i.e. that Bost is making reference to the screenplay drawn from Bernanos's novel. Otherwise, the "yet" would be gratuitious and it would be translated merely as "a script that has not been filmed" The sticking point here is that Bost describes his writings as "confidential" and as I have shown those writings were already very public and controversial. Could Bost be referring to some other of his writings which Truffaut borrowed? As de Baecque revealed, in his article published in 1994 on the writing of A Certain Tendency, in November 1952 when Truffaut borrowed the the Country Priest screenplay, he also borrowed the Aurenche-Bost screen adaptation of Colette's Le Blé en herbe, another as yet unfilmed script. One though,which would go before the cameras some 8 months later at the end of July 1953. Could this be the "script" which Bost is making reference to?

In an end-note to his A Certain Tendency - one which I have to believe is noticed by few who read that article, Truffaut writes,

5) Le Blé en herbe. Colette's novel was adapted from 1945. Claude Autant-Lara accused Roger Leenhardt of having plagiarized Le Blé en herbe with Les Dernières vacances. Maurices Garcon's arbitrage ruled against Claude Autant-Lara. With Aurenche and Bost, the plot conceived by Colette was enhance with a new character, that of Dick, a lesbian who lived with the "White Lady". This character was eliminated a few weeks before the shooting of the film by Ghislaine Auboin [Autant-Lara's wife and frequent collaborater] who "revised" the adaptation with Claude Autant-Lara.

This Aurenche-Bost script for Le Blé en herbe which Truffaut borrowed from Pierre Bost certainly passes the test of "confidential". And if what Truffaut writes in this end-note is correct, then Bost could deem that his script "has not been filmed"; what was filmed was a Ghislaine Autant-Lara revision of that script.

The release date for Le Blé en herbe is co-incident with the publication date of the January 1954 issue of Cahiers. And it would not be surprising if Bost was upset about this end-note given that the publication of the January 1954 issue of Cahiers coincided with the release of Le Blé en herbe.