Plot: What’s it about?
The Last Metro was one of Francois Truffaut’s final films he made before succumbing to a brain tumor at the age of 52. I am an unabashed fan of Truffaut and plan to eventually watch all of his films. He is my favorite director that emerged from the French New Wave and he ties for my favorite French director with Jean Pierre Melville. Not every film that Truffaut made is perfect, but the vast majority of his work is enjoyable. In terms of how I would rank the film, it is not as great as Day for Night, but it is much better than The Bride Wore Black.
The Last Metro takes place during World War II during the German occupation of Paris. The first character introduced is Bernard (Gerard Depardieu,) a woman-crazy young actor. As he auditions for a part in a play at the Montmartre theatre, he learns that the theatre no longer hires Jews to act. This is shocking because the theatre was well-known due to the director Lucas Steiner who has fled to America and left the theatre with his wife, a beautiful actress named Marion (Catherine DeNeuve.) Bernard lands the lead role opposite Marion. As the theatre begins to produce the play with notes from Lucas, the theatre is under scrutiny of a Jew-hating theatrical critic and inspector that is in league with the gestapo. To make things more intense, Marion is hiding something.
After reading that paragraph, the film probably comes off as in intense affair. It does have an intensity that lies underneath what happens, but the movie is still classic Truffaut. Truffaut writes people in a light-hearted and innocent way. The characters on screen seem to be more obsessed with their careers and lives than the madness that is enveloping their city, even though eventually the war has a way of interfering with everything. Truffaut brings his typical wonderment and reverence for entertainment to the film and it serves as a solid ode to live theatre at a time where theaters were constantly full so that people could get warmth and entertainment.
The acting is top notch with great performances everywhere you look. Gerard Depardieu is solid as Bernard, but Catherine Deneuve is the main show. This should come as no surprise to anybody who has seen her in other films. Even sixteen years after The Umbrellas of Cherbourg she was still a knockout.
The cinematography on this film is the one thing I found to be a little bit lacking. The cinematography by Nestor Alemendros is by no means bad, and the red monochrome look of the film is unique, but whenever the film breaks from that look in a few sections it is jarring enough to look fake and pull the viewer out of the film. I hate to nitpick a film I enjoyed, but a scene with the character named Daxiat late in the film sticks out like a sore thumb.
If you like Truffaut’s other films, don’t hesitate to watch this one. It is very enjoyable and has a lot to offer the viewer.
Video: How’s it look?
This was first released on Blu-Ray by Criterion in 2009 using an MPEG-4 AVC encoding. The video quality for the most part is high-quality, but it does suffer a little bit of softness from the way films were shot in the Seventies/Eighties. I would love to see what this picture would look like with a 4K scan and how far Blu-ray has come since back then. Overall, the movie’s cinematography is not going to blow anybody away. This will sound strange considering that Nestor Alemendros did cinematography on one of the most beautiful films ever made, Days of Heaven. The red monochrome provides a unique look, but the film overall will come off as a bit dull color-wise.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Similar to the video, this LPCM Mono track is high quality. There is nothing bad to report whatsoever in this department although dynamic range is limited, because the film was originally recorded in Mono. Dialogue is incredibly clear and crisp. The music in the film by George Delerue sounds great and the lossless track opens up the soundtrack a bit. I did not notice any pops or hiss or distortion. There is no real room for improvement here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Deleted Scene – (1080p, 4:59) a short scene between Valentin (Rene Dupre) and Marion (Catherine Deneuve) which was reinserted in the 1982 video release of The Last Metro. Not anything too important.
- Les Nouveaux Rendez-vous – (SD, 10:47) Francois Truffaut, a very Eighties-looking Catherine Deneuve, and a very striking Gerard Depardieu talk about The Last Metro in this excerpted 1980 interview from the French television program. I loved this.
- Passez Donc Me Voir – (SD, 6:29) another interview from 1980 where Francois Truffaut and actor Jean Poiret discuss The Last Metro. Great stuff.
- Performing The Last Metro– (1080p, 14:56) interviews with actors Andrea Ferreol, Paulette Dubost, Sabine Haudepin, and second-assistant director Alain Tasma. This piece is decent.
- Visualizing The Last Metro – (1080p, 9:34) interviews with camera assistants Florent Bazin and Tessa Racine where they discuss their work with Nestor Almendros. I enjoyed this piece but was most impressed by the piece with Nestor himself.
- Working with Truffaut: Nestor Almendros– (SD, 28:06) a rare interview with cinematographer Nestor Almendros from April 1986. This is by far the best special feature. Almedros was an incredible talent and he discusses his work on nine of Truffaut’s films. This was amazing.
- Une histoire d’eau– (1080p, 12:14) is a 1958 short film by Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. This short film definitely feels like it was directed by Godard with maybe a little bit of help from Truffaut.
- Audio Commentary – the first commentary is by film scholar, friend, and translator Annette Insdorf (Francois Truffaut; Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust) and was recorded excessively for the Criterion Collection in 2008. This is absolutely fantastic.
- Audio Commentary – The second commentary is with actor Gerard Depardieu and historian Jean-Pierre Azema and moderated by Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana. This commentary is enjoyable, but it is completely in French so it requires the viewer to watch subtitles for the length of the film. Still, I am interested in all things Truffaut so this is solid.
The Bottom Line
The Last Metro is a really solid Truffaut film. It is funny and sweet and has an underlying tension throughout the film that kept me on my toes. To me, Truffaut is the best director that came out of the French New Wave, and this is one of his later masterpieces. That said, this disk came out eight years ago, so the transfer will not blow away people that have seen the superb transfers that Criterion have been doing nowadays. The special features include excellent commentary tracks and some jaw-dropping interviews (Nestor Alemendros!)
I definitely would recommend adding this one to your collection and this is not a bad place to begin watching films by Truffaut. It is also PG and kid-friendly if they don’t mind reading subtitles!