Two English Girls

Two English Girls is widely regarded as one of Truffaut’s masterpieces. Likewise, let it be known that, once again, the critical response to this film is wildly out of proportion to the merits of the film itself. Truffaut is, without doubt, the most vain of the French New Wave filmmakers, a moral delinquent/movie-loving savant whose charms hoodwinked many into believing he had the humility and inner complexity to be a great storyteller. Watch anything made by India’s Satyajit Ray made between 1955 and 1975 if you want stories told by a true genius, one whose studies of love and yearning would easily put this French brat — for that matter, just about any one making movies on the world stage at that time — to shame.

Jean-Pierre Léaud, for all his appeal, is just a blank-faced mannequin standing in for the morally disingenuous and superficial exploits of Truffaut himself. To him, as ever, humans are too capricious, too much at the whims of physical love for anything lasting and meaningful. This is a fine and powerful message if Truffaut himself didn’t give it the romanticized credence that he does time and again in each of his silly, nonsensical (not to mention overrated) outings.

Why is it that Truffaut’s stories are generally so well received, considering that his characters’ exhibit little or no inner contradictions and complexities? For a viewer to sympathize with a character, that character has, at some point, to acknowledge regret, to have suffered, or compromised because of a single-minded devotion to something or someone greater than him- or herself, to express a humbling sense of purpose. Léaud’s characters exhibit nothing of this sort — they are lost, easily distracted and undisciplined, all the qualities you might readily disdain in a character, except for the fact that Truffaut chooses to make him a chick magnet who loves and leaves with no discernible feeling and with utter impunity. It’s part of what makes Truffaut’s cinema so woefully shallow, so unequal to the task of reaching a better understanding of human beings.

Also, I can’t stand flat, vapid cinematography, especially when it’s coupled with flat, vapid characters and story material. Nestor Almendros is famed for using natural light and unpretentious compositions and his aesthetic was very much in vogue in the European cinema of the early ’70s. The problem is that a filmmaker needs to enmesh this anti-glamorous style with an absolutely uncompromised dramaturgy. Truffaut, though, just wants to get laid, so to speak, to strive for anything deeper and more complex than Léaud’s high jinks.

Still, Georges Delerue’s lovely score and fine performances by Markham and Tendeter keep another one of Truffaut’s narcissistic escapades–masquerading as “high brow” and “literate” cinema–watchable, but just barely.

Grade: C+

Directed by: François Truffaut
Written by: François Truffaut, Jean Gruault
Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Kika Markham, Stacey Tendeter, Sylvia Marriott, Marie Mansart

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