Un­der the skin

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

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

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