Francois Truffaut’s follow-up to his illustrious debut The 400 Blows is, according to Truffaut himself, probably as opposite as one could go from their first picture, and that’s exactly how he wanted it. While his debut was considered a very French film, Truffaut, for his next picture, wanted to show his appreciation and influence of American films. There are still a lot of French New Wave touches to be found all over Shoot the Piano Player, but at its heart, this has a different set of ideals than Truffaut’s previous film.
The film is the tale of a lonesome piano player, left to play the rest of his days in a dive bar after his wife kills herself. His brother is involved with some disreputable people, and he is forced back into a life he wanted to leave behind him. Really, the plot isn’t the focus of the film. It just hops and flits around from scene to scene, leaving Truffaut to pick up the pieces and assemble them together into some sort of film. Truffaut has gone on record saying that he pretty much just shot whatever scenes he found interesting and threaded them all together, only barely getting by with a script that changed throughout the shoot, and it certainly shows in the end product. Also, like I mentioned before, the touches of the French New Wave, like jump cuts, improv dialogue, and a supremely low production value, are all over this one, try as it might to overcome them. Whether or not you like or appreciate the French New Wave will color your opinion of this film greatly.
I liked the spontaneity of the film’s process, but this left a lot of other stuff to be desired. For instance, I had no idea what kind of film this was trying to me; a noir tribute, a crime film, a tense romance – it never seemed to commit to any genre, and so it comes across as waffling. Not to mention the completely open-ended ending, something that seems to be a staple of the French New Wave. Still, this was made by Truffaut, a true lover of the cinema, and that love is poured into each and every one of his works, which makes watching them all the more enjoyable for someone like me. I was quick to acknowledge that the average moviegoer was likely not to get very much out of a film like this, and that’s fine; I’m likely not going to get very much out of certain types and genres of films myself. But if Truffaut’s style is your thing, you’ll find something to like about this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10