Sunday 11 June 2023

The Last Metro (Le Dernier Metro) (1980)


Den sidste metro

“The Last Metro” (“Le Dernier Métro”) is one of the last of Francois Truffaut’s movies and is by many seen as the second installment in Truffaut’s unfinished trilogy about the production process, following “La Nuit Americaine” (about making movies) and which was supposed to end with one about making musicals. I do not entirely agree with that assessment. “La Nuit Americain” had moviemaking as the central element, but “Le Dernier Metro” has more themes in play and the supposed theater themes is more of a setting than the central element.

During the Second World War, the modest Theatre Montmartre is trying to survive the hardships caused by the war. The owner and director of the theatre, Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) is Jewish and has presumably fled the country, but is actually hiding in the basement, listening in on everything going on. Instead, it is his wife and lead actress Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve) who runs the theatre according to instructions that her husband “left” before he “fled”. Resources are small so they have to be creative on props and costumes and the Germans as well as the French Nazi sympathizers take a lot of, unwelcome, interest in the theater, especially the Nazi mouthpiece Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard).

Bernhard Granger (Gerard Depardieu before he attained blimp size) is the new lead actor. He has a crush on most women, but especially Marion, and he is affiliated with the resistance, which is rather problematic when you need Nazi approval to run a theater. Bernhard, Marion and Lucas make for an odd and awkward love triangle.

More than being about setting up a show on a theater, this is a period piece on life in Paris during the war. There is a lot of, successful, effort done to make it look and sound authentic. Especially the music and the small mundane elements. They are both more interesting and more in focus than the details around the show they are putting up. The love triangle is also a major theme, which is treated both elegantly and, well, curiously. Maybe it is a French thing, but Lucas seems to be rather okay sharing his wife with Bernhard.

The problem with “Le Dernier Métro” is that it feels too long. It is a long movie, but not more than so many other movies. What makes it feel long is the lack of intensity. Every crisis there is, and there are quite a few, is handled surprisingly fast and easy. You would think Gestapo searching the basement is a big thing, but you just hide and invent a story for the basement. You would think that Daxiant threatening to take over the premise would cause alarm, but it was resolved so quietly that I hardly noticed what happened, not to mention the lack of an explosion in the love triangle. It is a narrative that feels static like a painting with more interest in the portrait than narrative. In a way that is a relief, why should everything necessarily have a crisis with potential for meltdown, but it does make the movie a bit dull. In that sense, the chaos and anarchy of “La Nuit Americaine” was a lot more fun.

“Le Dernier Metro” was one of Truffaut’s more successful movies, especially in France, and I can see why. You feel cozy and warm watching it, people are funny, and bad things are not as bad as that. The lighting and the music is a nostalgia trip and sometimes we need just that.

I could see myself watching it again, at least for the music.


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