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The Power of Black & White in Film

The Master of the Soft Touch, Francois Trauffaut, (1932-1984) was a filmmaker as passionate about life as he was about cinema, left behind a legacy of nearly auto-biographical films that continue to inspire and define the essence of art and storytelling due to their simplicity of strong narrative, characters seeking the eternal meaning of life, death, and questioning the nature of dubious love.

Stunningly crafted in black and white, the images of Jean-Perre Leaud in “The 400 Hundred Blows” became the poster child of the French New Wave movement, encapsulating a strangely haunting depiction of desperate life and the unhappiness of growing up without direction or hope for the future. Based on his own personal story, Trauffaut adopted cinema as his true family to our good fortune, pouring out and into his auto-biographic character “Antoine Doinel’s” rebellion and quest for identity in a changing world as a symbol for the idealists and creative minds struggling with self expression, as he successfully combined the classic good-bad boy image of stunning good looks with a shy – yet sly behavior. Taking a great sense of pain from own his personal life which Trauffaut portrays so stark and brilliantly, he focuses on bits of behavior that become poetic detail captured on screen in black and white. The iconic freeze frame on the hero, Antoine, at the end at the film tirelessly running until he can run no more – finally arriving at the sea, as he turns to the camera searching for the next moment, we are left hanging in the abyss beside him.

Death and memory play integral roles in all Trauffaut’s film, as he began to take on more complex themes in “Stolen Kisses”, a romantic thriller – homage to Hitchcock, and “Jules and Jim” , the most scandalous “menage et tois” of the 1960’s . However, it is the most memorable “Day For Night”, a satirical masterpiece on the artificiality of the American studio system of the time portrayed as the story-within-a story of making a movie to become the original docu-drama style of what we now call, “Reality TV”. Becoming a cult classic and Trauffaut’s most reflective work, the cinema-verite story captures the cast and crew as they deal with all the problems Murphy’s Law can throw at them, before completing their film when someone dies. Life imitates art, as we follow the breakup of the group when the film wraps, as the film lives on eternally. Trauffaut is telling us that no matter what happens, nothing is more sacred than the film, with an immortality of it’s own.

Trauffaut was not only a visionary, but a romantic who carried on affairs with his leading ladies, and went on to make several stunning films in his later career with “The Story of Adele H”, “The Last Metro”, “Confidentially Yours”, and “The Women Next Door” – all in glorious rich color to capture the clandestine romantic noir feeling of his storytelling. He paid homage to another era of cinema, as it was then that he became a true “autour”- to know oneself with such depth and objectivity, there is no greater authority than the director, the true author of his art /film /word.