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