Truffaut would return to American crime fiction only occasionally, using the simple plots of murder and revenge as a starting point for more personal stories of romance and despair rather than for comic effect. His final film, Confidentially Yours (the French title, Vivement Dimanche!, translates as "Finally, Sunday!"), was also adapted from an obscure paperback mystery, though perhaps with less ambition and passion than Piano Player. Made simply to pay respect to film noir, it's stylish but a little silly, a generic joke that runs a bit thin despite the strong presence of Fanny Ardant as a secretary trying to prove that her boss (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is innocent of a series of murders. Minor but entertaining, it ironically duplicates the complicated plots of B mysteries but not their economy, taking almost two hours to accomplish what Republic or Monogram would have wrapped up in half its length.

An enfant terrible whose attacks on France's stodgy "tradition of quality" made him a highly visible target for old enemies and rivals, Truffaut's own maturity was often thrown back at him, as if his developing style was a betrayal of New Wave enthusiasm. What critics of his later films (which were out of fashion in some ideological circles by the late '70s) usually failed to see was that Truffaut's sense of resigned humanity transcended the classical conventions that he embraced. Though the New Wave directors briefly delighted in breaking movie codes, Truffaut was more interested in transforming them, resulting in later masterpieces like The Last Metro, a surprise hit in 1980 and a film that seems considerably richer and more adventurous today than it did 19 years ago. Originally planned as a companion piece to Day for Night, Truffaut's film is a tribute to the stage and the people who work in it, but it's also one of his most ambitious works, using a historical setting to reflect on romance, sacrifice, political commitment and the arts. Set during the Occupation, with Catherine Deneuve struggling to keep her theater open in the midst of censorship, shortages, blackmail and the absence of her Jewish director/husband (who is actually hiding in the cellar, keeping track of the current production), The Last Metro is a vivid mixture of historical anecdote and Renoirlike humanism, but the maxim "Everyone has his reasons" is modified by a sense of political accountability.

Some reviewers of the recent retrospectives and the biography have expressed surprise that Truffaut was a more complex and somber figure than his popular image suggests — an image typified by his performance as the gentle alien-chaser in Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For those familiar with his films, this darker figure — whose history includes incarceration, depression, suicide attempts, a long string of romances and a family that almost defines "dysfunction" — could already be glimpsed in the obsessive passion of Adele H., the doomed lovers of The Woman Next Door, the morbid hero of The Green Room and, most of all, in the ménage à trois of 1971's Two English Girls, a disturbing, frequently overlooked masterpiece that ranks among Truffaut's richest works. Based on the only other novel by Jules and Jim author Henri-Pierre Roche (whom Truffaut discovered and more or less rescued from obscurity) and filmed after a period of deep depression, this tragic love story lays bare Truffaut's feelings about love, sex, death and art, wallowing in its emotions with an almost uncomfortable physicality. In a reversal of Jules and Jim's high-spirited passion, Léaud, in what is probably his finest performance, plays a young Frenchman whose innocent but ill-fated relationship with two English sisters leads to tragedy. The final scene, in which the 26-year-old Leaud, still a New Wave figurehead, looks at his reflection and declares, "I feel old," marked the end of an era, the final statement of an entire generation's romantic illusions. Only a director like Truffaut, who loved the past, loved the arts and knew how far romance and madness could drive someone, would bring such a scene to life, the only truly Proustian moment in the history of cinema. François Truffaut and Fanny Ardant on the set of his last film, Confidentially YoursBREAKING THE NEW WAVE

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