The Soft Skin was a bit of a revelation for me. Coming after the legendary run of The 400 Blows, Shoot The Piano Player and Jules and Jim, The Soft Skin was apparently derided by critics for a ludicrous ending (one I found similar to Chabrol’s great La Ceremonie). But it’s every bit as great as those films, while also functioning as a bit of a transition away from some of the New Wave theatrics of the first three, and more towards the gentler, sophisticated staging of the director’s later work.
The first things that struck me about this one are the amount of inserts (did Truffaut always shoot that way? I don’t recall anything of the sort in the films preceding it), and also how much mileage he gets out of a simple pan. It’s perfect camera placement and really crisp, surprisingly fast blocking that does it.
There’s this scene, which I’ve only captured in part here. The camera reveals the entirety of Pierre (Jean Desailly) and Franca’s (Nelly Benedetti) apartment quite easily. It dollies back at first, as they enter, but then shortly pans right:
Continuing to follow their friend down a short set of stairs-
-before whip-panning back up to Pierre:
The camera later pans to the door and back as more people enter:
It’s really pretty unshowy but so energetic. And for a film that’s romantic it never feels over-blocked or unnecessarily kinetic. Truffaut’s characters move and each scene has its own spark.
This adulterous tale had plenty of tonal shifts that I really enjoyed. At times it felt like Truffaut’s 1983 film, Confidentially Yours:
And other times like a classic, breathless (eh?) romance:
It’s not just the blocking that sets this apart from other films. The writing is spot-on, and the chemistry between Pierre and Nicole (Francoise Dorleac) is phenomenal. There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Nicole gives a long monologue and Truffaut holds on her close-up – or perhaps I should say, withholds Pierre’s reaction – for an overly long time:
It’s an awesome scene and a great editing decision. There’s so much off-screen suspense.
The ending, which I won’t spoil, was apparently quite controversial. I think it works. It’s another tonal shift and a surprise, but it didn’t feel gratuitous, given that which occurs before, particularly 15 minutes or so before.
Other Films (maybe more than one sentence on some):
Silent Running (Trumbull, 1972)
An entertaining film that’s also insipid: the (lack of) sun in the forest is the reason for its dying? “I just don’t know. I just can’t figure out what’s wrong,” is hilariously bad voiceover. Bruce Dern is wasted. Is he supposed to be going mad ala Jack in The Shining 8 years later? If so, it all happens too quickly. There’s basically no suspense in the second half of the film until the final 15 minutes.
Heartburn (Nichols, 1986)
A great two-hander with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep that’s casual presentation belies what’s actually a really incisive film.
Five Angles on Murder (Asquith, 1950)
A Rashomon-like narrative the same year as Rashomon, Anthony Asquith’s thriller is sometimes dry, but intriguingly structured for its year of production.
The Last Seduction (Dahl, 1994)
A good ’90s thriller featuring a Body Hurt/Kathleen Turner-like performance from Linda Fiorentino, that also reminds of others of its ilk: Red Rock West and The Grifters