Jean-luc Go­dard and François Truf­faut were close friends and col­leagues. Then Truf­faut made Day For Night…



un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally sug­gested that Jean-luc Go­dard should make an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal film called ‘A Shit Is A Shit’. The re­mark rep­re­sents the nadir of a friend­ship as tight, tur­bu­lent, cre­ative and sig­nif­i­cant as any in the his­tory of cinema. To­gether they were the lead­ing lights of the French New Wave in the late ’50s and 1960s. In­di­vid­u­ally they couldn’t have been more dif­fer­ent. Truf­faut, the prod­uct of a bro­ken home, was the out­sider look­ing to break in. Go­dard, the son of a doc­tor, was the in­sider who wanted out. The for­mer was con­ven­tional, gen­tle and gen­er­ous of spirit. The lat­ter was cool, acer­bic, full of piss and vine­gar. If that re­minds you of an­other duo tak­ing the world by storm at that time, es­sen­tially they were the Len­non and Mccart­ney of Euro­pean cinema.

“Truf­faut is of­ten cast as Paul Mccart­ney,” laughs Kent Jones, direc­tor of Hitch­cock/ Truf­faut. “But the idea he was mak­ing the kinds of movies that Go­dard was crit­i­cis­ing [him for] is bull­shit. I don’t think any­body was mak­ing a movie like Day For Night or The Woman Next Door or Two English Girls. Those are very pow­er­ful films.”

Day For Night, the thing that fi­nally broke up the band, is out this month on Cri­te­rion. A love let­ter to mak­ing movies, it is com­pletely be­guil­ing. So how could some­thing so en­chant­ing come between the best of friends?


Truf­faut, aged 19, first met Go­dard, 20, in one of France’s thriv­ing cine-clubs. They bonded in small screen­ing rooms, watch­ing three or four movies a day then, too poor for taxis, walk­ing home af­ter the Métro had closed, dis­sect­ing the work of Hawks and Hitch­cock. As crit­ics at Cahiers du Cinema, their pas­sions be­came pro­fes­sional. “They wanted some­thing spec­tac­u­larly new,” says Dud­ley Andrew, author of François Truf­faut: A Com­pan­ion. “They wanted a live­lier, earth­ier French cinema. They were drawn to the Amer­i­can cinema which they thought of as more nat­u­ralised.” Such com­mit­ment couldn’t be con­tained in the stalls. If Truf­faut’s first fea­ture, The 400 Blows (1959),

was a ral­ly­ing cry, then Breath­less (1960), di­rected by Go­dard from a treat­ment by Truf­faut, broke down the bar­ri­cades. The French New Wave had ar­rived.

The friend­ship ap­peared to flour­ish through­out the ’60s. Go­dard vis­ited Truf­faut on Fahren­heit 451 on day one of film­ing. Truf­faut helped Go­dard fi­nan­cially on 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967). But fis­sures were be­gin­ning to form. Some were down to in­creas­ingly di­ver­gent philoso­phies: Truf­faut be­lieved cinema should em­brace old forms; Go­dard be­lieved you should take a bat to them. Go­dard teased Truf­faut for his com­mer­cial in­stincts, ob­serv­ing, “In the morn­ing he is a busi­ness man, in the af­ter­noon, he is an artist.” Oth­ers were based on po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, Go­dard be­com­ing in­creas­ingly rad­i­calised in the volatile civil un­rest of May 1968.


And then came Day For Night. While the rest of the world em­braced Truf­faut’s hymn to film­mak­ing (it won the Best For­eign Lan­guage Os­car), Go­dard walked out half­way through and sent Truf­faut a four-page let­ter brand­ing him a “liar” for omit­ting his own sex­ual dal­liances with ac­tresses (“One won­ders why the direc­tor is the only one who doesn’t fuck in Day For Night”). In the same let­ter, with trade­mark cheek, he asked his friend for money to make a Marx­ism-in­formed film that acted as a ri­poste to Day For Night. Truf­faut saw red. He fired back a 20-page screed that skew­ered Go­dard’s po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing (“Any­one who has a dif­fer­ent opin­ion from yours is a creep, even if the opin­ion you hold in June is not the same one you held in April”), his self-cen­tred­ness (“Between your in­ter­est in the masses and your own nar­cis­sism there’s no room for any­thing or any­one else”) and his gen­eral bad be­hav­iour (“You’re noth­ing but a piece of shit on a pedestal”).

A war of words played out in the press and in pri­vate but the pair rarely met in pub­lic. “There is a mo­ment where Go­dard comes up to Truf­faut in a restau­rant and says, ‘How about get­ting back to­gether?’” says Jones. “Truf­faut won’t even shake his hand.” In 1980, Go­dard in­vited Truf­faut and

Cahiers cronies Claude Chabrol and Jac­ques Rivette to col­lab­o­rate, but Truf­faut re­sponded with his ‘A Shit Is A Shit’ jibe. For his own part, Go­dard started sewing barbs into his films: 1982’s Pas­sion lam­poons the end of Day For Night. The pair never rec­on­ciled, even at the end. When Truf­faut died of a brain tu­mour in 1984, Go­dard praised him as a critic but still lam­basted him as a film­maker.

But, if you’re af­ter a happy (freeze-frame) end­ing, four years later, Go­dard wrote a fore­word to a col­lec­tion of Truf­faut’s let­ters that Kent Jones calls “one of the most mov­ing trib­utes ever writ­ten”. It’s Go­dard’s warm­est work to date. The cyn­i­cal Len­non fi­nally showed a bit of Mccart­ney.


Clock­wise from left: Truf­faut; Go­dard; Jacque­line Bis­set and Jean-pierre Leaud in 1973’s Day For Night; Leaud shoot­ing Day

For Night’s film-withina-film Meet Pamela; Bis­set as Day For

Night’s Julie Baker; Jean-paul Bel­mondo and Jean Se­berg in 1960’s Breath­less.

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