Despite being over 20 years since his debut film, Quentin Tarantino still dazzles some students. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it does, along with the supposition that film history began with Star Wars in 1977, severely limit understanding of cinema. Similarly, the inability of hundreds of critics to find more than two 21st century films in the top 50 of the decennial Sight & Sound poll threatens to turn film into an exercise in nostalgia. Tarantino himself is entrely open about his debt to the French nouvelle vague and named his company after a film by Jean-Luc Godard.
Tirez sur le pianiste may not be a great film but it still feels thoroughly modern with its mix of irreverence in plot, its take on the gangster genre and the style in which it is shot. Truffaut uses the source material, an American ‘pulp’ novel by David Goodis, and inflects it with a modernist sensibility that keeps its heart intact. Much of this is to do with Charles Aznavour’s moody performance, encapsulating a ‘would be’ existentialist hero but who is a prisoner of his class. The close-ups of his faltering hand that is too shy to touch the woman he loves are extremely effective in representing his wounded character.
I always preferred Godard to Truffaut, however this, and Jules and Jim (1963), are superb films.