Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

“Once, when all my shorts were at the laundry, I put on silk panties that belonged to my sister. Ah! Some funny sensation it gave me! From that day on I understood why they all crave it, why they never have enough. Because we men, we have pants on. But girls, with their short dresses, it’s skin rubbing on skin all day long!”

‘Shoot the Piano Player’, directed by François Truffaut in 1960, is a French crime drama set in Paris. Charles Aznavour plays Edouard Saroyan, a classical pianist who, after his wife commits suicide, is forced to play in lowlife dives in the city. When his brother comes to him in trouble, Saroyan and a waitress, Lena, played by Marie Dubois, are drawn into crime. As the plot develops, the pianist finds himself entangled with gangsters, not least the family he ran away from years before. It’s a completely different film to Truffaut’s previous, and first, movie, ‘The 400 Blows’. ‘Shoot the Piano Player’ is set in a heightened world of organised crime, gunfights, murder and ‘Godfather’-like family ties. It’s a strange mixture of noir-like thriller and playful New Wave irony, Truffaut adapting the story from a novel, but then grafting on a comedic framing of the grim and dark source material. It’s full of eccentric characters, parodic presentations of hoods, almost Western-like gunfights, but it also has a number of elegant directorial touches. For example, a long portion of the film involves the bonding between Saraoyan and Lena, particularly during a continuous tracking shot of them walking the streets discussing marriage. There is an almost Monty Python-like moment of visual comedy showing the mother of a character dropping down dead, but there are also subtler moments of visual genius throughout the film such as the cutting between an oscillating clock and a rocking Saroyan. It’s not as coherent as ‘The 400 Blows’ or ‘Jules et Jim’, but it has a certain power and a feeling of experimentation that carries you along.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a witty, parodic and entertaining thriller. Watch in a double bill with the similarly gritty ‘Bob le flambeur’.

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