15 June 2012 | secondtake
Stunning and beautiful and a bit stilted now and then, maybe as device, give it a look!
The Last Metro (1980)
You can see this as a romance, a complicated one filled with restraint and false moves. You can see this as a war movie about resistance and suffering and subterfuge. Or you might see it as a slice of life--never mind the great plot elements--and get a feel for wartime Paris, its oppression under the Nazis and the inability to quite know what to do to survive.
This is layered with a play within a play in a couple ways, and if there is a weakness to the movie it's this inner play. Maybe it's meant to be a bit boring (as the Nazi-sympathizing critic says it is), but it takes up enough of the movie it drags the reality outside of the play down a bit.
Maybe the movie is about accommodation, about bending your highest principles to survive. Or maybe it's about how the smallest of romantic urges are okay to follow through on. Sometimes. Because in the end there is mostly a feeling of having survived. It isn't triumphant, quite, but relieved.
Francois Truffaut is of course not just a famous director but a lionized one, seeming to get credit for lifting cinema into something artistic and valuable, both. All of that is here. The best of this--like feeling leading actress Catherine Deneuve walking the tightrope through people she could not totally trust--is amazing. The filming is subtle and gorgeous, a warm and humanized camera in the hands of Nestor Almendros (famous in the U.S. for "Days of Heaven"). The writing is natural and spare, except for those parts in the interior plays. It is, at its best, a moving beautiful movie.
The structure has an odd breakdown at the end--intentional, with voice-over, but odd nonetheless. It's disruptive not only in time, as intended, but in tone. It forces the viewer to remember this is a fictional invention, an artifice with a cinematic point. And so it is. We see the end with detachment and it's not as rewarding as before.
There's no reason not to see this film. It's different enough to be engaging and yet familiar enough to not be offputting (as some earlier French New Wave directors seem to want). Memorable, at least for a while.