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The Last Metro
cast: Gérard Depardieu, Catherine Deneuve, Jean Poiret, and Heinz Bennent

director: Francois Truffaut

127 minutes (PG) 1980
widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan DVD Region '0' retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Emma French
Francois Truffaut deservedly won a Cesar for his direction of this modern classic, a restrained, moving and beautifully shot exploration of the Occupation. The title refers to the midnight curfew that operated in the time the film is set, 1942, and the consequent need for all Parisians remaining out to catch the last train. A perpetual sense of clandestine activity and surveillance is indeed evident throughout the film. Nearly all filmed indoors and mostly at night, there is a pervasive sense of paranoia and suspense. Low-key lighting and frequent fade-outs to black create a very effective mise en scene, at once intimate and strange, and the sumptuous 1940s costumes are memorably elegant. Truffaut carefully avoids overt politics or polemic, instead, as the DVD introduction to the film indicates, preferring to explore character.
   In his first leading film role, Gérard Depardieu is plausibly ingenuous and idealistic as the actor Bernard Granger. Depardieu's patchy forays into Hollywood film often obscure his significant achievement in French cinema, displayed at its best here. Effective use of humour lightens the film's mood, particularly Depardieu's hopeless womanising with his Sapphic colleague Arlette Guillaume. Catherine Deneuve looks luminous as Marion Steiner, and puts in an extraordinary performance that won her a Cesar as well as the director. Heinz Bent is also notable as her persecuted Jewish husband Lucas Steiner, trapped and frustrated in a cellar, but to single out individual performances detracts from a phenomenal ensemble cast.
   The film's meta-performance aspects are far superior to the typical cinematic representation of theatrical rehearsals, particularly the thespian self-indulgence of a film such as In The Bleak Midwinter. The stately pace of much of the film quickens dramatically in the closing scenes, which move hastily to a series of surprising denouements and a frenetic epilogue, all within the wrap story of a stage play.
   The DVD has extensive and helpful special features. These include a well-written introduction to the film that skilfully paints the political background and sketches out the history of the production and some of the main themes, as well as its success at the French box office. There is an amusing collection of faux-trailers for other classic Truffaut films, including Jules et Jim and Fahrenheit 451, complete with lavish critical praise and a newsreel style format.
   An interview with the historian Jean-Pierre Azema helps to set the historical scene in more depth and to provide background to the Nazi occupation of Paris. The interview contains some fascinating feedback from Depardieu, who remarks that he remembers feeling that Truffaut was a "bourgeois trickster" before he was won over. Extracts from the 1980 Cesar awards, in which The Last Metro won 10 awards are also included, as is a deleted scene and an interview with Truffaut from the time of the film's release, as well as a piece on Truffaut and the pleasure of reading. These extras, combined with an excellent quality of transfer and the film's already assured status, ensure that this release is a genuine collector's item and a must for Truffaut fans.