Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dir by Francois Truffaut

The French New Wave may seem like the very Frenchiest of Frenchness, stories of people trapped in existential angst, smoking cigarettes, and shrugging their shoulders. This is odd because to a large degree those French directors were importing American culture, and the shoulders aren’t shrugging, so much as spasming in agony after catching a bullet or knife-blade.

Tirez sur le Pianiste is Truffaut’s adaptation of a David Goodis novel, Shoot the Piano Player, which is what the American release is appropriately titled. The tale concerns Edward (Charles Aznavour), a concert pianist hiding out from his former life. Edward’s story is told in an extended flashback that relates his poor but happy life of wedded bliss (he’s studying piano, she’s a waitress), his rise to stardom, and the cruel collapse of it all. Without putting in too many plot spoilers, a man with great talent AND a beautiful wife might find that both play a part in his rise.

After losing it all to the cruel blows of fate, Edward hides out as a piano player in a shabby tavern. He provides for his younger brother Fido (yeah, they named him after the dog) and gets childcare from the neighborhood prostitute. Edward also has a couple of older brothers. They happen to be hillbilly criminals (I haven’t read Goodis’ novel, but somehow I picture the originals with a still) who have swindled a pair of hold-up men of their end of a bank robbery. The robbers decide to take Fido as an incentive to return their loot.

If that isn’t bad enough, Edward has found a new love with the waitress (he should know they are poison by now) at the tavern. In film noir this is never good. In particular Edward’s boss is senselessly envious and a violent explosion ensues. Edward, having clawed his way from the abyss to the brink of happiness, is drawn back to the pit.

Truffaut was a master filmmaker and he handles the material deftly. The problem is, there is too much of it, and some critical elements are slighted. Just what is Edward’s relationship with Fido? The hillbilly brothers pop into Edward’s life with a little too much ease, as if they never existed when he was famous. For all its flaws, Shoot the Piano Player is a fine film.

-Dave Hardy


Charles Gramlich said...

I know the French have been very interested in American Noir fiction over the years. There's a lot there I need to read but so far I've never had time to really investigate it much. As for movies, I see very few even American ones.

Dave Hardy said...

I just get stuff at the library. I stumbled across "Cercle Rouge" and "Rififi" and borrowed 'em. Of course it's something I tend to watch on my own. Brigid did kind of like "Flic Story" though...

Andy said...

Just a nitpick, but IIRC the original title of Goodis's novel was actually "Down There". Shoot the Piano Player is only the movie's title, but since movies are often the tail that wags the dog, the book is now better known by the film adaptation's title.

Dave Hardy said...

That's good to know!

Hard Case Crime has reprinted some Goodis novels recently. You an also find some Goodis short-stories online through PulpGen. They aren't crime stories though, it's air-combat tales!