Le dernier métro (1980)

LAST METRO, THE (Dernier métro, Le)

(director/writer: François Truffaut; screenwriter: Jean-Claude Grumberg/Suzanne Schiffman; cinematographer: Nestor Almendros; editor: Martine Barraqué-Curie; music: Georges Delarue; cast: Catherine Deneuve (Marion Steiner), Gérard Depardieu (Bernard Granger), Heinz Bennent (Lucas Steiner), Jean Poiret (Jean-Loup Cottins), Andréa Ferréol (Arlette Guillaume), Sabine Haudepin (Nadine Marsac), Maurice Risch (Raymond Boursier), Paulette Dubost (Germaine Fabre), Jean-Louis Richard (Daxiat), Richard Bohringer (Gestapo Officer); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jean-José Richer; Wellspring; 1980-France-in French with English subtitles)
“The muted colors give the film a haunted look, like it was a film made in the 1940s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

François Truffaut (“The Green Room”/”The Soft Skin “/”The Wild Child “) is the cowriter and director of this slow moving but well-acted tale about the pangs of a French theatre company under the German Occupation in World War II and its desperate struggle to stay open between 1942 and 1944. It’s other writers are Jean-Claude Grumberg and Suzanne Schiffman. The film carefully shuns politics and ideology to instead become a character study and a mood picture that portrays a bleak look at the times, the backstage life of the theatre group and shows how the members of the theatre group survived. The hermetic drama is more entertaining than aesthetically pleasing, as it keeps its character study paper thin. It’s more successful capturing the dark mood of that ugly period in French history, and is more crowd pleasing than realistic in its dramatization (think The Sorrow and the Pity for a more realistic view of that period!).

During occupied Paris in 1942, the beautiful actress Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve) hides her Jewish manager husband Lucas (Heinz Bennent) in the cellar of his crumbling Montmartre theatre and takes over running the theatre while they rehearse for their new Norwegian play The Woman Who Disappeared. The theatre group includes a former Grand Guignol actor, an active member of the Resistance named Bernard Granger (Gérard Depardieu), and a homosexual director named Jean-Loup Cottins (Jean Poiret), who are both in peril of arrest by the Nazis. Others include the costume designer Arlette (Andréa Ferréol) and the gutsy ingenue Nadine Marsac (Sabine Haudepin).

Marion and Bernard have eyes for each other, but out of respect for Lucas are restrained. The Paris critic Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard) is the Nazi tool who issues theatre permits and the group must play nice with this miscreant to stay open, who is there to enforce the Nazi law that no Jew is permitted to work in the theatre (the Daxiat character is based on the real-life one).

The uplifting humanistic war drama provides unexpected laughter in its nostalgic look back at that dark period in French history that includes a contemplative look at romance, loyalty and heroism. “Metro” doesn’t tell much of the torments of Nazi-encouraged French anti-Semitism, as it just lets the cat out of the bag. But the muted colors give the film a haunted look, like it was a film made in the 1940s during the occupation.

It was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar.