Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Soft Skin (1964)

At the time of its release, The Soft Skin was viewed as bit of a letdown after the stylized sensation of Truffaut's Jules and Jim which had preceded it. Audiences at Cannes even booed it. I guess that's understandable. There's no freeze-frames or voiceover here. It's just a very simple story told extremely clearly. What makes The Soft Skin stand out all these years later, is how astoundingly personal it was to Fran├žois Truffaut's life at the time.

Though based on an incident he had read about in the paper, it can be assumed that what really attracted Truffaut to the story was the fact that the director himself had been unfaithful to his wife Madeline Morgenstern. Within a year of the film's release Morgenstern and Truffaut were divorced. This was primarily due to numerous affairs Fran├žois had engaged in over the course of their marriage. The most recent one had been with Francoise Dorleac who just so happened to have played the mistress in The Soft Skin.

Viewed through this lens the film becomes something altogether different. It's a confession. To get biblical with this, the film is an act of contrition. But should that matter? In order to really understand this work you have to know the intimate bedroom goings-on of its maker. Isn't that the stuff of the tabloids? Shouldn't a film be able to be understood and appreciated on its own terms and independent of external knowledge?

Part of me wants to say yes. We have no business involving ourselves in the private details of a filmmaker's life. But then there's the fact that this film's protagonist is a literary scholar who makes a living by using intimate details to illuminate the works of Balzac. It's almost as though Truffaut is begging us to look deeper, to really examine him and his life. He wants to be caught. He wants to be found out. Perhaps the whole thing was made so that he could show his wife and come clean?

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