Irish Film Institute -Last Metro, The

Last Metro, The

A huge commercial and critical success in France (it received no less than ten Cesar awards), The Last Metro was largely dismissed as a flimsy affair by English-language critics who saw it as one more step in the director’s decline. At first glance, the film does look like the kind of traditional period piece that Truffaut the critic used to attack. Set in Paris during the German Occupation, it tells of the struggles of a theatre company to survive the Nazis. Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve) is the star of the company and is also running the theatre in the (apparent) absence of her Jewish husband, Lucas (Heinz Bennent). Truffaut is at pains to capture not only the privations imposed by war, but also the compromises and betrayals which were necessary in the face of treacherous collaboration. It’s entirely appropriate, then, that nothing is quite what it appears to be in The Last Metro. The film works on two discrete but interdependent levels: as another of the director’s meditations on the nature of art and artifice, à la Day for Night, and as a study of the relationship between oppressor and the oppressed. Truffaut’s humanism is here contained within a rigorous moral framework that’s embodied in Deneuve’s complex character. One of his chief reasons for making The Last Metro, he said, was to see Deneuve-for too long typecast as a frigidly lethal femme fatale-in the role of ‘a responsible woman’. That ambition is amply fulfilled in Deneuve’s superb turn as Marion, a woman whose mask is so skilfully maintained that, when it finally drops, the crash is all the more shockingly effective.
France, 1980.
English subtitles.
131 mins.

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