Documentary examines the extraordinary interview sessions between François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock (photo by Philippe Halsman)
HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (Kent Jones, 2015)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Monday, January 22, 5:00
Series runs January 19-25
212-255-2243 quadcinema.com cohenmedia.net/films
Founded in 2008 by Charles S. Cohen, the Cohen Media Group is an independent theatrical production and distribution company that specializes in high-quality new films and restorations of classic cinema. The Quad is paying tribute to the group’s first decade of operation with the twenty-two-film series “A Journey Through Cinema: Ten Years of the Cohen Media Group,” continuing through January 25. On January 22 at 5:00, the Quad is screening the widely praised 2015 CMG documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut. “In 1962, while in New York to present Jules and Jim, I noticed that every journalist asked me the same question: ‘Why do the critics of Cahiers du Cinéma take Hitchcock so seriously? He’s rich and successful, but his movies have no substance,’” French Nouvelle Vague auteur François Truffaut wrote in the preface to the second edition of what he called “the hitchbook,” the seminal film bible Truffaut/Hitchcock. “In the course of an interview during which I praised Rear Window to the skies, an American critic surprised me by commenting, ‘You love Rear Window because, as a stranger to New York, you know nothing about Greenwich Village.’ To this absurd statement, I replied, ‘Rear Window is not about Greenwich Village, it is a film about cinema, and I do know cinema.’” Truffaut was determined to change the prevailing belief that British director Alfred Hitchcock was a maker of studio fluff. “In examining his films,” Truffaut continued, “it was obvious that he had given more thought to the potential of his art than any of his colleagues. It occurred to me that if he would, for the first time, agree to respond seriously to a systematic questionnaire, the resulting document might modify the American critics’ approach to Hitchcock. That is what this book is all about.” The tome compiled a weeklong series of conversations between the thirty-year-old Truffaut and the sixty-three-year-old Hitchcock — the talks began on Hitch’s birthday — in the latter’s Hollywood studio office, with Helen Scott serving as translator. Although the interviews were recorded for audio, no film was shot; instead, Philippe Halsman took still photos. The story of the unique relationship between Truffaut, who as of 1962 had made only The 400 Blows and Shoot the Piano Player (he was in the midst of finalizing Jules and Jim), and Hitchcock, who was preparing his forty-eighth film, The Birds, is told in this splendid documentary, which cleverly reverses the order of Hitchcock and Truffaut’s names from the book it’s based on. Writer-director Kent Jones (head of the New York Film Festival), cowriter Serge Toubiana (former editor in chief of Cahiers du Cinéma) and editor Rachel Reichman lovingly combine Halsman’s pictures, audio clips from the original sessions, scenes from many of Hitchcock’s films (and a few of Truffaut’s), close-ups of dozens of pages from the book, rare archival footage, and new interviews with ten directors from around the world who weigh in on what makes Hitchcock’s work so special, so illuminating, so influential.
Sharing their praise are Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Arnaud Desplechin, James Gray, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, and Paul Schrader, as they shed light on such classic films as Vertigo, Psycho, I Confess, The Wrong Man, Sabotage, Marnie, Rear Window, and others, with detailed shot-by-shot analysis while also praising the importance of “the hitchbook” itself. It all makes for an eye-opening crash course in cinema, and it’s likely to change the way you look and think about motion pictures. “It was a window into the world of cinema that I hadn’t had before, because it was a director simultaneously talking about his own work but doing so in a way that was utterly unpretentious and had no pomposity,” Gray (Little Odessa, Two Lovers) says about the book. “There was starting to be these kind of erudite conversations about the art form, but Truffaut was the first one where you really felt that they were talking about the craft of it,” Schrader (American Gigolo, Mishima) points out. “It’s not just that Truffaut wrote a book about Hitchcock. The book is an essential part of his body of work,” Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Carlos) explains. “I think it conclusively changed people’s opinions about Hitchcock, and so Hitchcock began to be taken much more seriously,” Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon) asserts. And Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) sums up, “It was almost as if somebody had taken a weight off our shoulders and said yes, we can embrace this, we could go.” Of course, the book not only created a critical reassessment of Hitchcock but also helped Truffaut’s budding career. Narrated by Bob Balaban, the film places the work of the two men, who remained good friends until Hitchcock’s death in 1980 at the age of eighty (sadly, Truffaut died four years later at the age of fifty-two), in context of the history of cinema. “Why do these Hitchcock films stand up well? Well, I don’t know the answer,” Hitchcock is heard saying at the beginning of the documentary. By the end of the documentary, you will surely know the answer.
Catherine Deneuve dreams of a better life in Luis Buñuel’s Tristana
Luis Buñuel’s adaptation of Benito Pérez Galdós’s 1892 novel Tristana is an often underrated, deceivingly wicked psychological black comedy. A dubbed Catherine Deneuve stars as the title character, a shy, virginal young orphan employed in the household of the aristocratic, atheist Don Lope (Fernando Rey), an avowed atheist and aging nobleman who regularly spouts off about religion and the wretched social conditions in Spain (where the Spanish auteur had recently returned following many years living and working in Mexico). Soon Don Lope is serving as both husband and father to Tristana, who allows the world to pile its ills on her without reacting — until she meets handsome artist Horacio (Franco Nero) and begins to take matters into her own hands, with tragic results. Although Tristana is one of Buñuel’s more straightforward offerings with regard to narrative, featuring fewer surreal flourishes, it is a fascinating exploration of love, femininity, wealth, power, and a changing of the old guard. Deneuve is magnetic as Tristana, transforming from a meek, naive, gorgeous girl into a much stronger, and ultimately darker, gorgeous woman. Lola Gaos provides solid support as Saturna, who runs Don Lope’s household with a firm hand while also taking care of her deaf son, Saturno (Jesús Fernández), yet another male who is fond of the beautiful Tristana. The film is one of Buñuel’s most colorful works, wonderfully shot by cinematographer José F. Aguayo, who photographed Buñuel’s 1961 masterpiece Viridiana, which was also based on a novel by Galdós and starred Rey. Tristana is screening January 24 at 4:35 in the Quad series “A Journey Through Cinema: Ten Years of the Cohen Media Group,” which continues through January 25 with such other works as Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack, Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning The Salesman, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, and Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s The Night of the Shooting Stars.