The Soft Skin (François Truffaut / France, 1964):
(La Peau Douce)

François Truffaut and the fascination of "love scenes filmed like murder scenes." He gives himself a bit of impetus at the outset (the protagonist’s dash to the airport) and establishes a backdrop of mechanical smoothness (planes taking off and landing, lights switched on and off). The rushing slows down when the boyishly middle-aged academic (Jean Desailly) pursues the frosty flight attendant (Françoise Dorléac) in a fragmented courtship -- ankles behind a curtain, eyes behind packages, the tender nervousness of meeting inside a hotel room. That the wife at home (Nelly Benedetti) is warm, caring and gradually drained by the betrayal ensures that this is no cheery triangle, but rather the director’s rejection of his own Jules and Jim image as a Pez-dispenser of cushy lyricism. The illicit couple’s thwarted sojourn in Reims gives you a few seconds of André Gide at a piano, the squirming comedy of Desailly’s frozen smile at a committee dinner, and a statement of theme ("I’ve learned that man’s unhappiness arises from the inability to stay quietly in his own room"); the cottage idyll afterwards brings the aching, flabbergasted awe of a bourgeois as he gently unhooks his half-asleep mistress’s garters. The affair is not to be, Dorléac departs via overhead shot and Desailly is left to try to mend things with Benedetti, who dusts off her old shotgun after discovering snapshots of the lovers’ jaunt in the woods. "No adultery is bloodless," says Natalia Ginzburg. Losey would have wrung cruel, rousing comedy out of these situations, but Truffaut is too aware of everybody’s feelings to not go for the heavy sigh of karmic melodrama. Still, the cross-cutting between the husband waiting outside the occupied phone booth and the wife striding toward the café armed like Annie Oakley shows a more trenchant understanding of Hitchcock than anything in The Bride Wore Black. With Daniel Ceccaldi, Laurence Badie, Philippe Dumat, Paule Emanuele, and Sabine Haudepin. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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