Francois Truffaut's "Shoot The Piano Player" -- A Brief Analysis

                                  After a year of the appearance of both "400 Blows" and "Breathless", Truffaut chose to adapt a short novel by American crime writer David Goodis. The film is Truffaut's unconventional take on crime genre titled "Shoot the Piano Player" (Tirez sur le pianiste, 1960). The original novel entitled "Down There" was, said to be, set in the seedier regions of the author's home town of Philadelphia. Truffaut, shortly after finishing his treatment for "Breathless" has read the novel and he quickly devoured everything Goodis has written. Elements of several of the author's other novels, therefore, found themselves drawn into the artistic patchwork of "Shoot the Piano Player."

                                  Like Godard, Truffaut chose to make "Shoot the Piano Player" partly to show his debt to American B-movies and pulp fiction. His second film was also a kind of reaction against his first. The director has been projected to great fame as the creator of "400 Blows", yet wasn't afraid to say that the acclaim of general public meant little to him. He decided that his next film wouldn't concern childhood and would be step away from sentimentality. It was a film for the film-buffs, full of in-jokes and allusions. Above all. it was a feature for himself and had a good deal of fun to make.

                                   The movie starts with Chico (Albert Remy) running frantically down an alley in an anonymous French town. It is dark. So dark in fact, that he runs straight into a lamp-post and is knocked down. He is helped to his feet by a passer-by and then continues to run until he finds a lively bar. Here he meets his brother (Charles Aznavour), the bar's laconic pianist, who he hasn't seen for years. His brother seems unthrilled to see him, especially as Chico explains that he is in trouble and needs help. Te pianist knows trouble like the back of his hand. A childhood prodigy and one-time concert pianist, he is haunted by the memories of his wife's suicide and now makes ends meet playing piano to an unappreciative audience of bums and drunkards.

                                 As two men enter the bar searching for his brother, the pianist aids his getaway. When he wakes up the following morning, and sees the two men outside his bedroom window, it becomes clear that he hasn't heard the last of the matter. Chico's misdemeanors have brought him into a dangerous situation in which both the pianist and the woman he grows to love will find themselves trapped.

                                Many of the noir touches remain in the film, such as the dark alleyways and lowlife locations, all memorably shot by "Breathless" cinematographer Raoul Coutard. Aznavour's pianist is a typical noir hero. Living in temporary accommodation and dogged by a tragic past, he doesn't give anything away ot let anyone in. Like Michel Poiccard ("Breathless") and Antoine Doinel ("400 Blows"), he is marginalized and misunderstood, an anti-hero.

                               As well as maintaining the dark and dramatic atmosphere of his source material, Truffaut plays with a number of different genres in the film, so that it becomes a mixture of the romance, comedy, melodrama and tragedy genres, as well as a crime picture. The movie has abundant comic touches. Some of the early scenes in Plyne's bar are especially humorous and there is gentle comedy in the sequence where Charlie alongside Lena and tries to hold her hand. Truffaut plays up the romance element of the story and softens the hard guys, who at one point have a discussion about musical lighters and other toys.

                           The film is famous for the comic scene, where one of the gangsters proclaims "May my mother drop dead if I tell a lie", to which Truffaut replies with a shot of an old woman collapsing. Such generic playfulness and swift changes of mood makes "Shoot The Piano Player" particularly hard to pin-down. The film was advertised as "plays in may keys --  all of them delightful, all of them different." Through using in these diverse keys, the film essentially subverts the original gangster genre in a similar manner to "Breathless."

                           "Shoot the Piano Player" was criminally overlooked upon its release. but remains as one of Truffaut's finest works. It's an irreverent and exhilarating work of the French New Wave era.


Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le pianiste) -- IMDb

Criterion Reflections


Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Glad to know that you have finally seen this one. It's quite easily the most daring film that Truffaut ever made. You review does full justice to the film. In fact, after reading your review, I am lamost tempted to revisit the film. Job well done!!! Btw, I will recommend you to read this review by Mr. Jugu Abraham, if you haven't read it already:

Arun Kumar said...

Thanks for the comment, Murtaza. Yeah, the most daring and different movie from Truffaut comparing to "400 Blows." I have read Mr. Jugu Abraham's article. It provides a great insight on Truffaut and the film.

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Another film that I have been ignoring for a very long time. Time to watch it, i guess. Lovely review. I suppose i will be in a position to relate with your review after I watch the film.