This summer at TIFF Bell Lightbox, two of the most foremost masters in will be compared and contrasted in Hitchcock/Truffaut: Magnificent Obsessions – a thirty-four film retrospective containing several classic works from the two auteurs.
Opening on July 7th with North by Northwest and closing on September 4th with The Last Metro, the basis of the programme stems from Kent Jones’ recent celebrated documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, focused around the infamous 1962 meeting between the two directors, that spawned the book of the same title, now considered an exemplary text in film studies. Jones himself will be present on to introduce his film on July 9th, as well as for Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973) and Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953) – both considered to be very intimate works, and an inspired pairing that will surely generate a fascinating discourse among attendees of both screenings.
Neither director requires a full introduction, being two of the most predominant figures in cinema history; each of course making intensive contributions to the art form. Hitchcock’s thrillers have managed to amaze and dazzle countless generations of moviegoers even to the present day, with titles such as Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960) deeply entrenched in the pop culture lexicon. Raising the bar for what mainstream cinema could accomplish and causing the rest of Hollywood to follow in his footsteps, Hitchcock earned his title as the master of suspense, one that is likely to never be relinquished. Such standout features of his in this series include Strangers on a Train (1951), The 39 Steps (1935), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), The Birds (1963), Dial M for Murder (1954), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Marnie (1964), and perhaps his most outstanding achievement, Vertigo (1958).
Truffaut on the other hand, while deeply inspired by Hitchcock’s work, created films which came from a rich cinematic background, as a result of his upbringing and as a critic for ilm journal Cahiers du Cinema. Truffaut’s early works such as The 400 Blows (1959), a deeply auto-biographical portrait of juvenile delinquency, and later films Shoot the Piano Player (1960) and Jules and Jim (1962) were hailed as masterpieces upon release, as they are today, with Truffaut being credited as part of the Nouvelle Vague movement which characterized much of French cinema at the time. Other Truffaut classics included in this program include The Soft Skin (1964), Mississippi Mermaid (1969), Small Change (1976), The Story of Adele H. (1975), and The Green Room (1978).
The common similarities between Hitchcock and Truffaut can be found in the way they utilize tension in their works, as well as sly humor – not to mention both called upon Bernard Herrmann to provide musical accompaniment for their works. The very nature of the retrospective is not only finding the similarities in each director’s work – rather its function is to enable the spectator to see these films in a new light and a new context. In essence, its calling upon the audience to see the films in the way Truffaut may have in his cinematic infancy, or rather, calling upon Hitchcock’s position to further understand how to make a truly effective piece of cinema, that still resonates today.
Possibly the best film of the series to offer such a fusion of these qualities is in Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (1968), starring Jeanne Moreau as a woman out to avenge her deceased husband-to-be after he is murdered at their wedding. Self-described as his “homage to Hitchcock”, Truffaut’s widely experimental feature diverges from his filmmaking style up to that point, focusing more on pre-meditated shooting style and less naturalism to unfold in his cinematic construction. The plot itself is rife with murder, intrigue, and other diabolical concepts which formed the basis of Hitchcock’s work, and even the framing of shots and use of techniques like flashbacks and soft transitions recall the same type of spatial composition. Most evident of all is the role played by Moreau herself – a woman placed into a position of power, ready and willing to strike back against the patriarchal society which wronged her by the deadliest means necessary. Powerful female figures abound in Hitchcock’s work, in some cases resorting to murder in dire circumstances, though the level of fortitude, intelligence, and cunning present in Moreau’s bride is fascinating, and makes for the standout element of the feature. As a formal experiment, The Bride Wore Black is the crown jewel of this retrospective, and its placement in the near-centre of the series should give attendees of most screenings much to unpack by the time it unspools on 35mm.
Hitchcock/Truffaut: Magnificent Obsessions begins July 7th and ends on September 4th. For screening information and tickets, visit TIFF’s official website.