CINÉSALON: THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN (L’HOMME QUI AIMAIT LES FEMMES) (François Truffaut, 1977)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, December 16, $13, 7:30
Back in October, a Hollaback! video went viral showing a young woman walking through New York City as men harassed her by calling out suggestively to her, looking luridly at her, and even following her. It’s hard not to think about that video, posted by a nonprofit “dedicated to ending street harassment,” when watching François Truffaut’s 1977 film, The Man Who Loved Women. As Maurice Jaubert’s bright, cheery score plays, a string of women get out of their cars to attend a funeral. The hearse drives past the camera — just as cinematographer Nestor Almendros’s name flashes on the screen — and holds for a few seconds as Truffaut himself watches the hearse go by, then walks off in the other direction. “One funeral is just like another,” Geneviève (Brigitte Fossey) says in voice-over. “However, this one is special. Not a man in sight. Only women . . . nothing but women.” They have all gathered to say farewell to Bertrand Morane (Charles Denner), a man obsessed with the fairer sex, particularly when he sees their bare ankles and calves. He goes to great lengths to find them, to be with them, but he is no mere ladies’ man or womanizing misogynist seeking to add notches to his belt. Deeply affected by his rather offbeat relationship with his mother (Marie-Jeanne Montfajon), he finds it impossible to stop these constant urges. He works in a lab building and testing model airplanes for the military, still a child playing with toys. He is not a particular handsome man, nor is he that dapper or charming, but there is something in his eyes, in his mannerisms, that make him surprisingly desirable to the opposite sex. He is after more than just physical pleasure, but it always remains just out of his grasp, leaving an empty hole inside that he tries to fill by writing a book about his numerous exploits and endless search for happiness, a journey that ends with his premature death.
Truffaut, who based some situations in the film on his own life with women and his mother, fills The Man Who Loved Women with a bevy of beauties, including Nelly Borgeaud, Geneviève Fontanel, Valérie Bonnier, Nathalie Baye, and Leslie Caron. But The Man Who Loved Women is not just about eye candy, even with the nudity; it’s about the search for true love, as evidenced by a late scene between Bertrand and former flame Véra (Caron). It’s also about the art of storytelling itself, told in flashback and, in the second half, focusing on Bertrand’s book, with a stream of clever self-references linking cinema and literature. Denner, who previously starred in Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black, has an uncanny way of making us root for him despite the sheer political incorrectness of his raison d’être; The Man Who Loved Women is probably not on Hollaback!’s Christmas wish list. But as crafted by screenwriters Truffaut, Michel Fermaud, and Suzanne Schiffman, the film, which is set in the pretty city of Montpellier in the south of France, portrays Bertrand as a kind of romantic antihero, an everyman who is fully aware of what he is doing but just can’t stop it. The film was remade in 1983 by Blake Edwards with Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, and Kim Basinger, but it’s not the same, of course. Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women, which earned César nominations for Denner, Borgeaud, and Fontanel, concludes the French Institute Alliance Française CinéSalon series “The Art of Sex and Seduction” on December 16 at 7:30, introduced by cultural critic Laura Kipnis.