Saturday, 10 September 2016

The Soft Skin

Year of Release:  1964
Director:  Francois Truffaut
Screenplay:  Francois Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard
Starring:  Jean Desailly, Francoise Dorleac, Nelly Benedetti
Running Time:  113 minutes
Genre:  Drama, romance

This French-Portuguese film from legendary French New Wave director Francois Truffaut tells the story of celebrated academic Pierre Lachenay (Desailly) who lives a comfortable life in Paris with his wife Franca (Benedetti) and young daughter Sabine (Sabine Haudepin).  During a trip to Lisbon to give a lecture he becomes infatuated with young airline stewardess Nicole (Dorleac) and they strike up an affair.  Despite their best efforts, Pierre and Nicole drift towards tragedy.

Despite being nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, and the fact that Truffaut was riding high on the international success of The 400 Blows (1959) and Jules and Jim (1962), The Soft Skin was a major box office disappointment.  It's a pity because this is a very good film.  An essentially dark and somber drama, this still sparkles with Truffaut's style, albeit toned down from his previous works.  This is a morality play, a drama about the workings of adultery and it's devastating consequences.  You know it's going to end badly from the start, even with some humorous scenes towards the middle involving a horrible dinner party and Pierre trying to be polite to a host who just won't leave him alone.  The abrupt climax hist something of a false note, but it woirks due to the strength of the performances.  This film pays a lot of attention to the workings of the various deceptions Pierre uses to keep his philandering a secret from his wife and his friends and colleagues.  Jean Desailly turns in a fantastic performance as the weak but calculating husband, he manages to give heart to a very unlikable character, who is hard to warm to because most of what happens to him is his own fault, however Desailly makes him at least vaguely sympathetic, but Nelly Benedetti owns the screen with a searing performance as the wronged wife who gives a brilliant savage tongue-lashing to a man who harasses her on the street.

Francoise Dorleac (who was the sister of Catherine Deneuve) also gives a great, quiet performance as the mistress, giving some depth to a fairly under-written character.  Interesting art imitated life, because Truffaut left his wife for Dorleac.  Dorleac never got the chance to become the major star she could have been, because she tragically died in a car crash in 1967 at the age of 25.

       Jean Desailly and Francoise Dorleac in The Soft Skin

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