A Sort of Apprenticeship

François Truffaut as a kid


“During the war, I saw many films that made me fall in love with the cinema. I’d skip school regularly to see movies—even in the morning, in the small Parisian theaters that opened early. At first, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be a critic or a filmmaker, but I knew it would be something like that. I had thought of writing, actually, and that later on I’d be a novelist. Next I decided I’d be a film critic. Then I gradually started thinking I should make movies. And I think seeing all those films during the war was a sort of apprenticeship.

The New Wave filmmakers, you know, were often criticized for their lack of experience. This movement was made up of people with all kinds of backgrounds—including people like me who had done nothing more than write for Cahiers du cinéma and see thousands of movies. I saw some pictures fourteen or fifteen times, like Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game [1939] and The Golden Coach [1953]. There is a way to see films that can teach you more than working as an assistant director, without the viewing process becoming tedious or academic. Basically, the assistant director is a guy who wants to see how movies are made, but who is constantly prevented from doing just that because he gets sent on errands while the important stuff is taking place in front of the camera. In other words, he is always required to do things that take him away from the set. But in the movie theater, when you see a film for the tenth time or so, a film whose dialogue and music you know by heart, you start to look at how it’s made, and you learn much more than you could as an assistant director.

The first films I truly admired were French ones, like Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Raven [1943] and Marcel Carné’s The Devil’s Envoys [1942]. These are movies I quickly wanted to see more than once. This habit of multiple viewing happened by accident, because first I would see some picture on the sly, and then my parents would say, “Let’s go to the movies tonight,” so then I’d see the same movie again, since I couldn’t say I’d already seen it. But this made me want to see films again and again—so much so that three years after the Liberation, I’d seen The Raven maybe nine or ten times. But after I wound up working at Cahiers du cinéma, I turned away from French film. Friends at the magazine, like Jacques Rivette, thought it absurd that I could recite all of The Raven ’s dialogue and had seen Carné’s The Children of Paradise [1945] fourteen times.”


François Truffaut’s Last Interview
by Bert Cardullo

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