Confidentially Yours

Sep 14, 1993

If, as François Truffaut said, quoting Renoir back in 1958, “The film director’s task consists of getting pretty women to do pretty things,’” then never did he apply himself more faithfully than in Confidentially Yours specifically for Fanny Ardant, not only to showcase her considerable beauty but to allow her to demonstrate her talent for comedy after the intensity of The Woman Next Door. Truffaut always enjoys showing active, dominant women in contrast to the vulnerable, fragile male and Ardant’s role parallels that of Catherine Deneuve in The Last Metro. Ardant plays a secretary in love with her boss, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and the role is enhanced to allow her, and not her boss, to conduct the investigation while he lies hiding in the cellar, consoling himself à la Bertrand Morane with staring at the legs of the women who walk past his basement window. The film also marks Truffaut’s return to his beloved black and white, which certainly serves to heighten the beauty of Ardant, and is also in keeping with the noir genre.

Indeed, there are few tasks harder for a French director than to produce a convincing French version of an American thriller. The American serie noire has its own specific conventions that transfer badly or not at all to the French context. Confidentially Yours solves the problem of the transposition to a French setting by creating a cinematic universe from which almost all allusions to an external geographical reality are rigorously excluded. There is no sense of place: anonymous locations—nightclubs, hotel lobbies, a cinema foyer—could be anywhere on the French Riviera but by shooting largely at night—or at least “day for night”—and in pouring rain, the sense of anonymity is enhanced. So we may be in the world of the American-style thriller but it is a world from which everything specifically American has been eliminated.

In any event, the setting is of no importance. Its artificiality at times borders on the abstract. Nor is the unraveling of the plot, the police investigation, of any interest to Truffaut. What does excite him is the creation of a world of marvelous comic invention and artifice out of nothing. His pleasure lies in Hitchcock-style manipulation, pulling the strings of his creations for the sheer pleasure of propelling them into each other’s arms. His achievement is simultaneously getting us to stand outside the crime thriller convention and to share his pleasure as he mocks it with a nudge and a wink. Truffaut repeats this gesture in the succession of homages to the crime thriller in general, the 1940s gangster film, the American comedy, and a series of quotations from Renoir, Hitchcock, Resnais, and Truffaut himself. Cinephiles have fun but so too do the uninitiated, unaware of most of the allusions, but accepting them as original gags integrated into the fabric of the film.

Truffaut speaks elsewhere of the way little-known writers of crime fiction often reveal themselves in intimate detail through their writing, secure in the illusion that they remain anonymous behind the corpses and shootings with which their plots are littered. Likewise Truffaut, thinly concealed behind the tortuous plot of Confidentially Yours, reveals his own tenderness, his relish for the intimate details of human behavior, his pleasure in setting his characters one against the other and also in bringing them together again, and his delicacy and delight in filming the vulnerability and also the beauty of women. No longer does he need to appear in his films in the g se of Jean-Pierre Léaud. He is present throughout  Confidentially Yours and his presence, his sense of freedom, his complicity with the audience, and his joie de vivre pervade the film.

Finally Sunday!, the British title of Confidentially Yours, is a grimly appropriate title for Truffaut’s last film since it was on a Sunday—October 21, 1984—that he died. In his films, however, Truffaut deliberately underplays the drama and the solemnity of death. He confronted his own death in a similar fashion, mocking the idea of his indispensability or that of any man. But he leaves an enormous gap, one that is difficult to fill or conceal. Truffaut lives in the memories of those who knew him, and more permanently perhaps, through his films. With his death an arbitrary finality is imposed on his work, arbitrary but indisputable. For François Truffaut, the battle between the provisional and the definitive is finally over, and all is now definitive.