Thirty years have passed since the death of François Truffaut, the man who more than anyone has loved Cinema and perhaps even women. We want to remember him with the words written for him by his best loved “enemy”.
“The article in Arts published on April 1959, said: ‘We have won’; and then, a little further on, it concluded with the words: ‘…for if we have won a battle, the war is not yet over.’ I wrote that article, as pleased as Athos was by one of D’Artagnan’s exploits. Our victory was the fact that Les Quatre Cents Coups had been selected to represent France at the CannesFilm Festival. In those days there still existed something called magic. A work of art was not the sign of something, it was the thing itself and nothing else (and it depended neither on a name nor on Heidegger for its existence). It was from the public that the sign would come, or not, according to its state of mind.
Along the Croisette, bombarded with cheers, there came a strange trio: an elderly eagle whose broad-spanned wings were already greying, a young ruffian, awkward and pale, risen from the depths of a book by Jean Genet or Maurice Sachs and now holding the hand of an even younger boy who was to become the French equivalent of Pasolini’s Ninetto.
Cocteau, Truffaut, Leaud. The elderly angel, Heurtebise, would whisper the passwords: look to your left, look to your right. Smile at the newspapers, smile at the newscasters! Bow to the minister! Slow down Walk faster!
It was a good time to be alive. And the fame that lay ahead had not yet begun to weave the shroud of our happiness. For the war was a lost cause, precisely because of the hopes we invested in it (I mean that modern war between digital technology and human suffering, between what is said and what is not said because it is seen and recorded).
Why did I quarrel with François? It had nothing to do with Genet or Fassbinder. It was something else. Something which, fortunately, had no name. Something stupid. Infantile. I say fortunately, because everything else was becoming a symbol, the sign of itself, a mortal decoration: Algeria,Vietnam, Hollywood, and our friendship, and our love of reality. The sign,but also the death of that sign.
What held us together as intimately as a kiss s when we used to buy our pathetic little cigars on emerging from the Bikini cinema on Place Pigalle or the Artistic, from a film by Edgar Ulmer or Jacques Daniel-Norman (oh Claudine Dupuis oh Tilda Thamar), before going to burgle my god-mother’s apartment to pay for the next day’s movies – what bound us together more intimately than the false kiss in Notorious was the screen, and nothing but the screen. It was the wall we had to scale in order to escape from our lives, and there was nothing but that wall, and we invested so much of our innocence in the idea of that wall that it was bound to crumble beneath all the fame and decorations and declarations that lay ahead.
We were devoured by Saturn. And if we tore each other apart, little by little, it was for fear of being the first to be eaten alive. The cinema had taught us how to live; but life, like Glenn Ford in The Big Heat, was to take its revenge.
These letters, from a young man tormented by the idea that he did notknow how to write, demonstrate the victory of what is said over what is not said but seen. The pain that we inflicted, we inflicted through words, words, and more words, but the pain that we suffered remained of the cinema, therefore silent.
François is perhaps dead. I am perhaps alive. But then, is there a difference?”