The Last Metro: Criterion Collection
April 20, 2009
The Last Metro (1980) has been described as the most popular film of Francois Truffaut’s latter career. It was also one of his most personal – relying on his childhood memories of German-occupied France during World War II. At the time of the film’s release, this subject matter was not a popular one in France what with lingering feelings of shame over the collaboration with the Germans during the war. However, Truffaut’s film was steeped in nostalgia, with its focus on the Theatre Montmartre putting on a play in 1942, while being spied on by Vichy collaborators. The theatre’s director has reportedly left France (but is actually hiding out in the basement of the theatre), but, of course, the show must go on.
As The Last Metro begins, Bernard Granger (Depardieu) is an actor who arrives at the Montmartre to audition for the lead role opposite Marion Steiner (Deneuve), who is running the place while her husband Lucas (Bennent) is away. A sure sign of the times is Granger having to sign an agreement that says he’s not a Jew because the company doesn’t want any trouble from the Germans.
Catherine Deneuve is excellent as a woman under incredible pressure to keep her husband’s production company running while he’s on the run from the Germans. She also has to deal with the censors and make sure that everything runs smoothly. Marion is the epitome of grace under pressure and yet Deneuve exudes a vulnerability that is very appealing and makes her character that much more sympathetic.
Gerard Depardieu is also good as an up-and-coming actor at the Grand Guignol but he’s also a member of the underground Resistance. His character is an intriguing mix of the political and the romantic. Bernard is something of a ladies’ man and his pick-up lines are well-rehearsed: he pretends to read a woman’s palm. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not.
Truffaut takes the time to lovingly develop many of the characters in this film via vignettes that also reveal their relationships with each other. There are also plenty of scenes of the company hard at work, getting ready for the upcoming play. The Last Metro is not just a fascinating, nostalgic ode to the theatre, but also a tense thriller as the Nazi threat constantly hangs over the characters like an ominous storm cloud.
The first disc features an audio commentary by film scholar Annette Insdorf who was Truffaut’s translator in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She talks about the film’s origins – a project that had been gestating for most of his career. Insdorf points out the autobiographical elements that were taken from Truffaut’s own life. She also provides excellent analysis of this film on a very informative track.
There is an additional commentary by actor Gerard Depardieu and historian Jean-Pierre Azema, moderated by Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana. Depardieu says that he initially had problems with Truffaut’s films and told the filmmaker that he thought they were “bourgeois.” However, meeting the man in person changed his mind about his films and filmmaking in general. Azema provides a historical context and talks about what France was like during the time that the film takes place. He also explains the origins of the film’s title.
The second disc starts off with a “Deleted Scene” that was removed because Truffaut felt that the film was too long. Sadly, this scene is not subtitled.
“Les nouveaux rendez-vous” is a 1980 interview with Truffaut and actors Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve from a French television program. Depardieu, in particular, comes across as very charming and also speaks very eloquently about his profession.
“Passez donc me voir” is an excerpt from a 1980 episode of the French T.V. program which features Truffaut and actor Jean Poiret. Naturally, they talk about their work on the film. It’s done in an odd, yet amusing setting: a busy restaurant.
“Performing The Last Metro” features new interviews with actors Andrea Ferreol, Paulette Dubost, Sabine Haldepin and Alain Tasma. They reminisce about their experiences working on the film. They also talk about how they were cast and their impressions of the director.
“Visualizing The Last Metro” features camera assistants Florent Bazin and Tessa Racine talking about working with legendary cinematographer Nestor Almendros. He worked in conjunction with other departments in order to achieve a realistic look that was authentic to that period of history. Bazin and Racine provide fascinating insight into Almendros’ working methods.
“Working with Truffaut: Nestor Almendros” is a rare interview with the cinematographer conducted in 1986. He speaks highly of working with Truffaut (they made nine films together) and tells several anecdotes about the man.
“Une histoire d’eau” is a 1958 short film by Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. There is a playful almost comical tone as a woman deals with the flooding of her town, taking several modes of transportation to get to where she’s going.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.