Friday, 10 February 2017

Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le Pianiste) (1960)

Skyd på pianisten
”Tirez sur le pianiste” or ”Shoot the Pianist” is the second installment on the List from Francois Truffault. It is quite a departure from “Les Quatre Cents Coups” in several ways. Gone is the social-realistic pathos and oppressive self-importance to be replaced by playfulness and a mischievous sparkle in the eye. ”Tirez sur le pianiste” is a movie by people having fun rather than burning to tell an important story.

I liked “Tirez sur le pianiste” a lot more than I did “Les Quatre Cents Coups”.

It is a strange movie to describe because it is both very conventional and completely unconventional. The plot is something you would recognize from an American B-movie, but processed in a way that is not quite a parody but questions the very format of the film. I imagine that Truffaut and his team sat down and considered every scene of the movie and said: “Hey, wouldn’t it be totally awesome if instead of doing this or that the characters would do or be something entirely different?” In that sense the very format of the otherwise ordinary story becomes a playground.

Take for example the introduction. A man, Chico (Albert Rémy), is on the run from someone. He meets a complete stranger with flowers, chat him up and is told a lengthy story about a marriage grown from dislike to full blown love. He says good bye and continues to run to find his brother and ask for help. There is an obvious clash here that makes you wonder and even smile, but not enough of a clash to break the illusion. In the bar where Chico finds his brother Charlie (Charles Aznavour) people are dancing and having a great time, but when you look at the couples dancing they are outright bizarre. Again you raise your eyebrow and even smile, but not enough to break the illusion. Then Chico disappears out of the story only to reappear in the end and we now follow Charlie, who has a secret worthy of any B-movie, but taken that step further.

The only movie I can really compare “Tirez sur le pianiste” to is “Pulp Fiction”. Tarantino’s toying with the conventions of B-movies is entirely parallel to what Truffault does here. That makes it fun and entertaining and always surprising, but never so much that it brakes the frame of the larger story. Charlie and Chico are being hunted by two gangsters and it does end in a bloody shoot-out, but the road there takes some very peculiar turns. The gangsters are tough and persistent, but they are also talkative clowns who in the heat of things keep up conversations completely unrelated to what they are actually doing. Again not unlike Jackson’s and Travolta’s characters in “Pulp fiction”.

Another similarity are the sudden jumps in the story timeline introducing plotlines seemingly unrelated to the main plot. The jumps are very sudden and at times dizzying and reflect the play with the format. The situations in these often almost unrelated scenes are detailed and elaborate and I get the impression that much more attention was invested in getting these scenes right than in developing the main story and as such they often feel more like tableaux than parts of a progressive story.

Truffault actually manages to keep it all on track and never lets it slide too far and I think this is why it actually works. This could easily have become a spoof movie or a hopelessly arty movie, but it maintains the balance well enough to become neither.

That is until I saw the interview with Truffault in the extra material. His explanations to the movie were so highbrow and pretentious that I wondered if it was me who had completely misunderstood the movie. According to Truffaut “Tirez sur le pianiste” is an art project. In my understanding, it was a group of movie makers having a great time. I much prefer my version.

I would definitely recommend this movie to anybody with an affinity for early Tarantino movies. He must have watched this movie and been inspired. In its time “Tirez sur le pianiste” was not received well so I guess Truffault was about thirty years ahead of his time.


  1. This never quite gelled for me. It wants to be noir and it wants to be funny, so it ends up kind of being neither.

    1. I am not entirely sure it wants to be funny. It happens to be at times, but I wonder if it is actually intended. According to Truffault himself he was rather surprised that the movie was a hit in New York as a comedy.

  2. I saw this so long ago that reading your review could have spoiled this viewing. I shall catch up to it again before long.

    1. Sorry for my delay, Bea. I have been travelling and completely out of touch this week. I think you should enjoy this movie as a first tilme view. Then we can talk about it later.