Plot: What’s it about?
The Soft Skin finds Truffaut coming off the success of Jules and Jim, The 400 Blows, and Shoot The Piano Player, three films that in many ways defined the French New Wave. This also finds Truffaut stylistically being influenced by the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock. Truffaut was in the middle of working on a lengthy and definitive book of interviews and analysis of Hitchcock’s films and style when he directed The Soft Skin. The influence is palpable, with the score of Georges Delerue borrowing heavily from Bernard Herrmann’s signature style, while Truffaut tried to make his shots and editing techniques reflect this admiration for Hitchcock. Coming out of an artistic period that all film lovers and the general public consider a triumph, The Soft Skin was at the time considered a disappointment. It was a flop upon release. Truffaut himself was very hard on the film, saying that he knew the film would not play well because it was too dry and depressing. He eventually used scenes of the film as basis for some parody in Day for Night, his later classic.
The Soft Skin is a story of a famous writer who meets a stewardess and begins an affair with her, disregarding his wife and young daughter. We watch their relationship fall apart and the effect that his actions have on those around him and himself as he selfishly pleases himself.
So what went wrong? Why was Truffaut so hard on his film? Personally, I think that in watching the film Truffaut became worried that the public would not enjoy the film and when the public seemed to abandon the film he followed suit. I think that is the heaviest flaw of the film. It’s a shame really, because The Soft Skin is stylistically incredibly rich, and I enjoyed it even more than Shoot The Piano Player, even though the storyline of that film is a bit richer. Truffaut’s attention to detail and amount of control in The Soft Skin is probably at its peak, having learned so much from his previous films.
The Soft Skin is not my favorite Truffaut film, but it is still a fantastic movie. The acting by Jean Desailly as the husband and the beautiful Francoise Dorleac as his mistress is some of the best acting in any of Truffaut’s films. Sadly, Francoise Dorleac would die very young, making her performance all that more enchanting. The black and white cinematography by Raoul Coutard is likewise superb (which should come as no surprise to anybody.) If I had one criticism for the film it would be that it could have been shortened by about fifteen minutes.
I don’t hesitate to give this film a high recommendation, and I am happy that Criterion has brought it stateside.
Video: How’s it look?
This is an extremely competent transfer from Criterion. The film retains a good amount of detail and looks great. Criterion have provided a brand new transfer from a 4K scan, and it really shows. Cinematography was done by Raoul Coutard, famous for such films as Le Mepris, Bay of Angels, Lola, Breathless, and too many others to mention. His attempt at Hitchcockian beauty works very well. Shadows and light play wonderfully and I could not have been happier with the end result.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Similar to the video, this French mono track is very high quality. There is nothing bad to report whatsoever in this department although dynamic range is limited as you would expect. Dialogue is incredibly clear and crisp and Georges Delerue’s attempt at a Bernard Hermann score sounds wonderful. Delerue and Truffaut are a perfect match and it really shows in this film. I could not find any excessive hiss or problems with the dialogue. Audiophiles are going to love this track.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- The Complexity of Influence – in this video essay, critic Kent Jones discusses the impact of Hitchcock and other directors on Truffaut. This was enjoyable, but not as meaty as the other features. The essay was produced exclusively for Criterion in 2014. In English and French, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (12 min, 1080p).
- Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock – this excellent documentary film examines the relationship between Truffaut and Hitchcock and how Truffaut’s seminal book on Hitchcock came to be. This features some fascinating interviews that shed a lot of light on something I personally find fascinating. I give this feature my highest recommendation. The documentary was produced by film historian Robert Fischer in 1999. In English and French, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (30 min, 1080i).
- Truffaut on The Soft Skin – presented here is an archival episode of the French television program Cineastes de notre in which director Francois Truffaut discusses his film making techniques in certain scenes of the film. I really enjoyed this immensely. The episode was broadcast in 1965. In French, with optional English subtitles. (11 min, 1080p).
- Audio Commentary – co-writer Jean-Louis Richard gives an extremely compelling examination of the film while discussing his relationship with Truffaut. This is the best feature on the disk, and one of the best commentaries on a Criterion disk. This is well worth your time. The commentary was recorded in 2000. In French, with optional English subtitles.
- Leaflet – an illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by critic Molly Haskell.
The Bottom Line
The Soft Skin may have been a disappointment to Truffaut and some very needy movie goers, but I found a lot to enjoy here. I actually enjoyed it even more on my second viewing of the film. I trust that patient film lovers will find a lot to like also. On top of the excellent transfer, Criterion have provided some extremely interesting supplements including one of the best commentary tracks imaginable. I give this film and release a hearty recommendation. Add it to your collection! It’s Truffaut! You know you want to!