#195 Shoot the Piano Player

Watched: August 26 2018

Director: François Truffaut

Starring: Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Michèle Mercier, Albert Rémy

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 21min

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Charlie Kohler/Edouard Saroyan (Aznavour) is a piano player in a dive bar, but a former classical concert pianist. When his brother Chico (Rémy) seeks him out to shelter him from a couple of gangsters he’s pissed off, Charlie gets dragged back into the criminal family he’s avoided for years.

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“Just ran into the weirdest dude out there. Told me all about his marriage and his wife, completely unprompted. Oh, and also, I’m chased by some thugs and I need you to help me escape.”

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Simultaneously, the shy and slightly awkward musician strikes up a relationship with waitress Léna (Dubois), but the gangsters follow them one night and the couple are kidnapped. However, they get on surprisingly well with their kidnappers.

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Although not as well as Charlie gets on with his friendly neighbourhood prostitute next door

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They get out of that fix unharmed, but as the gangsters become more and more determined to use Chico’s family members to track him down, Charlie realises he must flee and leave his girlfriend behind. Lest she ends up like his first wife…

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“So, first there was the wife. That ended badly.” “How badly?” Well, she’s dead. Then there’s my neighbour Clarisse, but she’s more of a very good friend.” “How good?” “Oh, very, very good… But I swear I’m actually a good guy. Just very unlucky.”

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Shoot the Piano Player is very different from our last encounter with Truffaut, The 400 Blows. It’s a bit Noiry, with the flashbacks, the past the main character cannot escape, the general bleakness and the occasional voiceover narration.

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The trigger happy gangsters complete the picture (we loved them, although their casualness and easy conversation with their victims made them even scarier than your normal movie thugs)

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It’s often sad, dark and depressing, but there are some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments which help alleviate the whole affair somewhat. We’ve been missing the noirs a bit lately (there were so many of them for a while there!), so we really enjoyed this one. Worth watching for fans of French New Wave, Film Noir, thrillers, dramas, and Truffaut in general.

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Or fans of pianos. Or, indeed, people who hate piano players with a fiery vengeance.

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What we learned: Even super polite and likable kidnappers can be ruthless killers.

Next time: Spartacus (1960)

#183 The 400 Blows/Les quatre cents coups

Watched: July 4 2018

Director: François Truffaut

Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Patrick Auffay

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 39min

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Antoine Doinel (Léaud) is a pretty average kid. He lives with his self-centred mother (Maurier) and nice enough, but very strict, stepfather (Rémy) in a small apartment in Paris. He doesn’t do too well in school and occasionally gets in trouble, although his best friend René (Auffay) seems to be the instigator at least some of the time.

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“I’m thinking we should hire some hookers and then kill some puppies?” “Yeah, I was thinking more like skip school and go to the fair..?”

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After he’s caught skipping school and lying about his mother’s death to cover for it, Antoine runs away from home. It only lasts for a day or so though, but when his teacher later accuses him of plagiarising Balzac, Antoine runs away again. This time for a while, and with more serious consequences.

 

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“Copied” sounds so harsh. I prefer “inspired by.”

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Antoine is misunderstood and/or ignored throughout the film. None of the adults in his life take the time to listen to him, and his actions are very often misinterpreted and harshly punished, such as his homage to Balzac and his return of the stolen typewriter (which, granted, he did steal earlier).

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Considering the irony of being caught returning stolen goods…

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We loved The 400 Blows. While it’s a fairly tragic tale of a talented but misunderstood young boy who gets into all sorts of (quite serious) trouble, it’s not all bleak. We loved the P.E. sequence with the rapidly diminishing student body, the centrifugal carousel, the shrine to Balzac and the kids watching the puppet show.

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Not to mention the extremely disruptive students

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Without spoiling it, the ending is also (possibly) optimistic, with Antoine standing at several thresholds and between two chapters of his life. There are four more films made about the same character played by the same (wonderful) actor, and we’re tempted to make a night of it and watch them all. In about ten years when we’re done with everything on the list

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In case you were wondering, we do bring this amount of energy and enthusiasm to every single film screening. Every. Single. One.

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What we learned: Life is hard for kids. Also, parents have responsibilities beyond feeding their children.

Next time: Special Bonus Post! Oboy oboy oboy!!!