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