Francois Truffaut’s 19th feature is his richest, most satisfying film in years, adroit dramatic entertainment, gracefully romantic and uplifting. But it is also a fascinating chronicle of Paris life under the German Occupation – its daily terror, material deprivation, opportunism, cowardice, denunciation, as well as its quiet heroism and unexpected moments of laughter.
Pic follows the difficulties of a small Paris theatre struggling to stay open under the constraints of the Nazi occupants. Truffaut has been inspired foremost by the autobiography of Jean Marais. Many of Marais’ recollections are deftly woven into the script.
An exiled German Jewish director (Heinz Bennent) has gone into hiding in the cellar of the Paris theatre he had been running prior to the Nazi invasion. His non-Jewish wife (Catherine Deneuve) has taken over management of the troupe, which is rehearsing a Norwegian play. Further emotional complications arise with the arrival of a new actor (Gerard Depardieu), a compulsive womanizer who moonlights as a Resistance fighter.
Truffaut’s direction is uncharacteristically restrained, his mise-en-scene almost classical in its invisible camerawork and sober editing. The acting is fine down the line, with Deneuve giving one of her most accomplished performances, particularly in her scenes with Bennent, forlorn and appealing, and Depardieu, who displays vigorous range.