Confessions Of An Auteur: Francois Truffaut’s Une Belle Fille Comme Moi (1972) – Blu-ray review
Truffaut always meant to demolish the wall between highbrow and low culture, so should we really be surprised that he made a sex farce?
Une Belle Fille Comme Moi
(Francois Truffaut, 1972)
By 1970, French cinema had reflected – and even caused – major changes in culture and society. But after the tumult of 1968, where next for the movement’s troubadours? For Jean-Luc Godard, it meant becoming even more radical and uncompromising in his fusion of film and politics. As for Francois Truffaut…
It’s fair to say that Une Belle Fille Comme Moi – a bawdy farce about a very bad girl – is not the kind of film you’d have expected when the Nouvelle Vague broke through. As the indiscretions and infidelities of the brilliantly named Camille Bliss mount up, it feels like a French version of the sex comedies so beloved of the Brits, the Carry Ons and Confessions of the world.
It doesn’t help that Truffaut shoots this with the least possible interest in being serious. His style is nonchalance itself, his roving camera dancing around cheeky, “well-stacked” (as the film puts it) star Bernadette Lafont. The tone is set the moment Camille’s abusive father kicks her up the arse and she literally flies – powered by the illusion of cinema – into a bale of hay.
This is Truffaut in playful mood, switching gears as rapidly as he did in Shoot The Pianist and Jules Et Jim: there’s even one of the director’s trademark freeze-frames. Yet the most compelling experiment in with chronology. The film begins with a short, never-returned to framing device in the present in which a woman can’t find the book she wants, and then flashes back a year to reveal the reason for the book’s absence. Even then, the film becomes the parallel narrative of how Camille ended up in prison, and her manipulation of the naive sociology professor determined to clear her reputation as a tramp.
What follows is a satirical juxtaposition of two poles of French intelligence: book-smart and street-smart. Not that there’s any contest. Camille might be in the lineage of femme fatales but her expert manipulation of approximately half a dozen different men isn’t feared but celebrated by Truffaut. Somehow, material that is utterly cynical in content is insouciance itself on screen. Far from being misogynistic, Truffaut finds a kindred spirit in Camille: she’s a female version of Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows, a connection cemented when she escapes from juvenile detention.
But mostly Une Belle Fille Comme Moi is about the power of cinema to help life take flight, like young Camille in the hay. An audaciously messy final act sees the professor enlist a budding filmmaker to achieve an unlikely redemption for Camille. In contrast, TV is shown to deal the killer blow of cold, hard fact. Who needs reality when Camille can roam free on the daydream of celluloid?