Reviews

Une belle fille comme moi

François Truffaut

France, 1972

Credits

Review by Aaron Cutler

Posted on 14 April 2010

Source VHS

Categories Love on the Run: The Films of François Truffaut

It’s tough to figure out what Bernadette Lafont is doing in Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me. I don’t mean that the actress is miscast — her performance is so weird that it’s impossible to tell. As Camilla Bliss (note that last name), a multiple murderess currently serving sentence, Lafont twists her mouth and neck and spits out words like little stabs, all on the way to singing the title song zestily, awfully off-key, in a production number that seems to recall Gentlemen Prefer Blondes without an editor. The only thing more puzzling than Bliss’s behavior is why her greatest advocate, sociology grad student Stanislas Prévin (a young André Dussolier, the future star of several Resnais films), should fall so madly in love with her.

The boy’s interviewing her for his thesis, you see. It’s called Criminal Women, a good title for a Truffaut series. Manny Farber nailed it when he wrote that in Truffaut’s universe “all women are villains…all heroes are unbelievably innocent, unbelievably persecuted.” Whether it’s Jeanne Moreau lobbing blades at Henri Serre in Jules and Jim, Belmondo falling for murderess Catherine Denueve in Mississippi Mermaid, or Charles Denner fleeing a stalker in The Man Who Loved Women, Truffaut’s heroes often fall into l’amour fou.

I’ve never liked Mississippi Mermaid — no matter how good the snow looks, I can’t get over Belmondo’s cuckoo devotion to a woman who clearly intends to rob him. In Truffaut’s movies people constantly turn at sharp angles to each other, both literally and figuratively, with their partners figuring out how to respond on the fly. At his best the films are flighty and charming, with melancholy undertones (Stolen Kisses is a particularly good example, a film where people fall in love and die of heart attacks at about the same arbitrary rate); at his worst they’re steaming heaps of forced whimsy, with the people talking so quickly, and the things they say making such little sense, that Johnny Guitar becomes a model of sanity.

Kid belongs to another dimension of nuts. The tales of murder and seduction that Bliss narrates to Prévin come replete with awkward double-entendres (“Was the lawyer efficient?”/”You bet. I’m pooped!”), hard-boiled nonsense (“It’s not liquor, just lemonade for grown-ups”), rapid Tashlin-speed editing, and one of the strangest fights that I’ve ever seen in a movie, climaxing with a man being bitten by a bear rug. Did anyone think to ask Truffaut where the mute guy kept coming from, or why the racecar noises were on the soundtrack? If nothing else, all the weird stuff adds up to a sort of Truffaut apotheosis, an experiment to see whether a movie can run fast enough to leap into total fantasy. All its allusions to other films — both tangible (Méliès, Bresson) and apocryphal — make it difficult to fathom Kid referring to any world outside the movies. One character’s even an eight year-old film director, which is basically the role Truffaut himself played in his follow-up film, Day for Night.

But as Prévin — a reference to Hollywood composer André — smiles and nods in delight, he comes to seem not so much like a Truffaut hero as like a Fassbinder one, a schmuck who’s punished for believing in love (a much more dangerous choice than exalting the movies). You can say Truffaut’s issuing a warning about the pitfalls of believing in dreams, but to have successfully done so would have required some kind of sentimental entry point. The difference for audiences between Fox and His Friends and this movie is the difference between a slowly twisting knife wound and a face full of cream pie. You’re the sap either way for thinking the film would be fun to begin with, but one makes you wince over how much being a sap hurts, while the other you can simply wipe off.

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