Under the skin
THE OUTLOOK FOR Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) is gloomy from the start. An admired man of letters with a loving wife and daughter and his own literary imprint, we know he’s doomed the minute she hooks up with Nicole (Françoise Dorléac, Catherine Deneuve’s younger sister), a flighty young 1960s air hostess.
We know too – this being a Nouvelle Vague affair – that the one-night-stand will soon snowball into uncontrollable infatuation. And that Madame Lachenay does not seem like the easy, forgiving type.
The outlook for Silken Skin (aka The Soft Skin) was similarly gloomy. In 1964 it failed to leave a lasting impression on a Cannes playbill that included The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. A dark divorce drama, François Truffaut’s mid-period tragicomedy seemed out of sync with his other films. Less poignant than The 400 Blows, less epic than Jules et Jim and a damned sight less cool than Shoot the Piano Player, Silken Skin was largely dismissed as a minor Truffaut.
It deserves better. For this delicate, muted rendition of the world’s most melodramatic plot, Truffaut builds suspense from small domestic dramatic ironies. The accumulative effect is exhausting; we consistently will the protagonist to steer clear of the most foolish option available, knowing the outlook couldn’t be gloomier.
Composed partly in ironic tribute to fellow cinematic titans Jean Renoir and Alfred Hitchcock and partly as autobiography (Truffaut had just left his wife for another women), Silken Skin arrives as a newly re-mastered package. Georges Delerue’s celebrated score and Raoul Coutard’s close camera work rarely packed more of a wallop.
An affair to dismember: Jean Desailly and Françoise Dorléac