Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Shoot the Piano Player

Based on the novel Down There by David Goodis, Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) is the story a washed-up piano player who finds himself entangled in a world of crime after his brother gets himself in trouble with gangsters. Directed by Francois Truffaut and screenplay by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, the film is a unique take on the crime genre where it involves this piano player who is mourning the suicide of his wife as he also gains the affections of a waitress. Starring Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Michele Mercier, and Albert Remy. Tirez sur le pianiste is a witty yet engaging film from Francois Truffaut.

The film is about a once revered piano player who finds himself in a mess caused by his brother who had cheated a couple of gangsters. While he is trying to remain content with his life, the waitress at the café he works at wants to help him make a comeback as he also tries to sort out the mess his brother has made. It’s a film that could’ve had a typical scenario that is expected in a crime film but what Francois Truffaut and co-screenwriter Marcel Moussy do is inject with some humor as well as some moments of drama. Notably as the life of Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour) is one that is complicated as he was once the famed concert pianist Edouard Saroyan who was playing in grand halls until the suicide of his wife Therese (Nicole Berger). Kohler refuses to go back to that world as well have anything to do with his brothers until he learn about their troubles as he reluctantly decides to help them.

The script features a lot of voiceover narration as it’s largely told by Charlie as he tries to figure out his own life and how not to get into any trouble yet the presence of the gangsters has him uneasy where he finds himself gaining the affections of the waitress Lena (Marie Dubois) who knows who he was once. While Charlie also has some liasons with a prostitute named Clarisse (Michele Mercier) who lives next door, he prefers to live alone yet the presence of Lena and her plans to help him gain a comeback does intrigue him. Still, the chaos his older brothers Chico (Albert Remy) and Richard (Jean-Jacques Aslanian) cause has Charlie realizing that he might be the one to save them as well as their youngest brother Fido (Richard Kanayan).

Truffaut’s direction is definitely very stylized in not just his compositions with the use of close-ups and wide shots but also in the way he creates a scene. Notably as he creates something loose and lively in the café that Charlie works at where Truffaut spends part of his time seeing what the people are doing while men stare at the ladies with Charlie contently playing his piano. Much of the direction is often shot on various locations around Paris where much of the camera work is hand-held where it’s also filled with these images that are very entrancing in the style that he creates. Even as Truffaut would also include some very risqué moments of sex where it’s obvious what he is implying in the way Charlie conducts his life. The scenes involving the gangsters do have some moments of suspense but also some offbeat humor that includes a scene where Fido is in a car with the gangsters where they just talk casually. It’s among these little moments that Truffaut does where he puts his own spin in the crime film but also find a way to pay tribute to those films. Overall, Truffaut creates a very lively and exciting film about a piano player dealing with his past as well as the trouble his brothers have caused.

Cinematographer Raoul Coutard does fantastic work with the film‘s black-and-white photography where it does play into a sense of style for much of the film‘s exterior scenes in day and night where much of those scenes in the latter have great usage of the city lights. Editors Claudine Bouche and Cecile Decugis do amazing work with the film‘s editing where it does play into a sense of style from its use of jump-cuts, dissolves, and montages that is used in the film. Production designer Jacques Mely does nice work with some of the set pieces in the film such as the apartments that Charlie and Lena lived in as well as the café they work at. The sound work of Jacques Gallois is excellent for the sense of atmosphere that occurs in the location as well as some of the sound effects in the gun fights. The film’s music by Georges Delerue is brilliant for its sumptuous yet somber film score with its orchestral flourishes while containing lots of classical piano pieces as its soundtrack.

The film’s superb cast includes some notable small performances from Daniel Boulanger and Claude Mansard as the two gangsters tailing Charlie over his brothers’ antics, Serge Davri as Charlie and Lena’s smarmy boss, Albert Remy as Charlie’s older brother Chico who comes to Charlie for help, Richard Kanayan as Charlie’s younger brother Fido whom he takes care of as he has a thirst for trouble, Jean-Jacques Aslanian as Charlie’s older brother Richard who hopes Charlie returns to the family to make them strong again, and Claude Heymann as the music impresario that discovered Edouard yet made a deal that would affect Edouard’s life and success. Michele Mercier is excellent as the prostitute Clarisse that Charlie occasionally sleeps with as she deals with the chaos that the gangsters create.

Nicole Berger is amazing as Edouard’s late wife Therese as she only appears in a flashback sequence as this woman who has trouble dealing with Edouard’s success while revealing a secret that plays into her guilt. Marie Dubois is fantastic as Lena as this young waitress who knows about Charlie’s true identity as she wants to help him get a comeback while dealing with the chaos over his family. Finally, there’s Charles Aznavour in a remarkable performance as Charlie Kohler/Edouard Saroyan as a pianist who is trying to live a quiet life as a loner only to deal with the chaos in his family’s activities as well as his past and the effects that it caused in his own troubled life.

Tirez sur le pianiste is a phenomenal film from Francois Truffaut. Thanks to its unique take on the crime genre as well as it’s amazing cast, the film is definitely one of Truffaut’s finest films. Particularly as it has a sense of energy and style that is just intoxicating to watch. In the end, Tirez sur le pianiste is a sensational film from Francois Truffaut.

Francois Truffaut Films: The 400 Blows - Jules & Jim - Antoine & Colette - The Soft Skin - Fahrenheit 451 - The Bride Wore Black - Stolen Kisses - Mississippi Mermaid - The Wild Child - Bed and Board - Two English Girls - Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me - Day for Night - The Story of Adele H. - Small Change - The Man Who Loved Women - The Green Room - Love on the Run - The Last Metro - The Woman Next Door - Confidentially Yours

The Auteur #40: Francois Truffaut (Pt. 1) - (Pt. 2)

© thevoid99 2014


ruth said...

Does Truffaut ever makes a *happy* film? Sorry I just don't usually go for films that are depressing, this one sounds like it could be. Great write-up though Steven, as always!

thevoid99 said...

Well, I don't know. Based on what I've seen so far. I think there's a few moments of happiness but I don't really know. I have a lot of films to cover for the whole year so I'll probably figure all of that out once I do my Auteurs piece on him late in the year.