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Shoot the Pianist

Tirez sur le pianiste

In his second feature, Truffaut begins to play with cinematic conventions in a way that was to become a hallmark of the French New Wave. Adapted from a novel by cult American author David Goodis, Shoot the Pianist is a highly original crime thriller. It tells of an ex-concert pianist whose fledgling romance with a waitress is destroyed when his gangster associates appear on the scene. Discovering that he couldn’t take gangsters seriously, Truffaut turned the film into a bizarre tragicomedy about a chronically indecisive character who is incapable of resolving the contradictions in his life. The film is about uncertainty and indecision. The chief protagonist (brilliantly played by Charles Aznavour) has changed his name and environment from Eduard Saroyan the successful concert pianist to Charlie Kohler the cafe entertainer, but he remains the same dispassionate, irresolute outsider he has always been. Because he has chosen anonymity, his actions and gestures are ineffectual. Thus he cannot prevent his wife’s suicide nor the murder of his mistress. The tone of uncertainty is built into the film’s very structure, and Truffaut employs a whole series of stylistic tricks to undermine our sense of continuity. Even the gangster plot is deliberately unclear and can be seen as a metaphor for Charlie’s personal predicament, which is at once comic and tragic. At the time of its first release, audiences didn’t know how to take Shoot the Pianist, but it now looks like a key work of French cinema in the 1960s.
France, 1960.
English subtitles.
Black and white.
Anamorphic.
80 mins.

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