This anthology is part of my final assignment for a CMCL398: Post Nouvelle-Vague French Cinema. I have broken it up into parts so that it may read better. I started this blog with my favorite film Alphaville (http://aleafordproductions.blogspot.com/2011/05/french-new-wave-anthology-alphaville.html). I didn't like Shoot the Piano Player or Tirez sur le pianist, but don't take my word for it.
30 April 2010
Shoot the Piano Player
Francois Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le pianist, 1960) is a black and white romantic film noir about Charlie Kohler, formally known as Edouard Sayoran (Charles Aznavour). He is a bar piano player who falls in love with the headstrong waitress Léna (Marie Dubois). Through the course of the movie, the audience learns about Charlie’s past life as Eduoard Sayoran.
I really disliked this movie because the plot was hard to follow. Like film noir, this movie is told non-linearly. However, unlike most film noir, it is hard to distinguish the timeline in Shoot the Piano Player (“Piano”). Besides the flashbacks, Truffaut explores gender. This film reverses gender norms and expectations especially Charlie’s. Women, men, and their romantic relationships are not portrayed well in this film. Women like Charlie’s neighbor and Ed’s past wife are portrayed as prostitutes. The male characters talk about women in a demeaning way and in front of other women. The best example of this is the car scene towards the begging of the film.
Léna and Charlie are riding in a car with two gangsters. They are on their way to visit Charlie’s brother. Léna is seated on the passenger side, and Charlie is seated in the back and across from her. The other two men are on the other side. Léna is always shown in a single medium close-up shot whereas the other men are shown in a medium two shot. The gangsters are the dominant conversation starters and carriers. The driver talks about watching women in a voyeuristic and generalizing fashion when he says, “I’ve got an eye for the moment when the wind’s gonna lift a skirt or some nice legs gonna board a bus” (Truffaut, Shoot the Piano Player). They talk about women’s clothes, style, and their first experiences with them. Even Lena jokes and adds her comments and thoughts to the conversation. Eventually, Léna steps her foot on the accelerator and gets the car pulled over where Charlie and she make their escape. Despite being outnumbered and literally dragged into the situation, Lena is able to remain calm and strong. Unlike Charlie, Lena is confident and aggressive too. She has all the “male characteristics” and becomes the “man” of their intimate relationship when she takes Charlie’s arm as they walk down the street after the car scene. Charlie failed to grab Lena’s hand in an earlier similar scene (close-up). Even Lena notices Charlie’s shyness and ineptitude when she says, “I was dying for you to take my hand” and “You are shy and respect women” (Truffaut, Shoot the Piano Player).
However, Charlie later redeems himself when he surprisingly saves Léna from a verbal argument turned physical. In a wide shot, we see Léna arguing in the background with Plyne (Serge Davri) at the bar in the top left corner. Charlie is in the bottom right and is shown in a medium close-up. In a voice-over he decides not to get involved when he says, “Just take your seat, you don’t care one way or another” (Truffaut, Shoot the Piano Player). He walks over to the piano (medium shot) and starts to play (medium close-up). Meanwhile the argument gets more heated and is shown in a closer shot. Plyne raises his hand to slap Léna (medium shot). His arm goes out of frame. The camera suddenly pans over to reveal Charlie who had caught his arm (medium shot). This scene is more like the classic film noir that audiences are used to, but it’s different in this case because it was unexpected due to Charlie’s meek nature. On a more surprising note, Charlie was able to kill Plyne, but not before Plyne could say, “Woman is pure and delicate. Léna is a slut. She uses dirty words...” (Truffaut, Shoot the Piano Player). Like in The Bride Wore Black, the ideal woman is “pure and delicate” or in other words naïve, dresses modestly, doesn’t sleep around, and etc.
In conclusion, Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player is an interesting movie on gender and relationships. Truffaut continues his dialogue on gender and relationships in his later films such as The Bride Wore Black. He has complicated characters and complex, multiple storylines in Shoot the Piano Player, but afterwards, he becomes a lot more conservative.
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