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Shoot the Piano Player (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on September 18, 2013

Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour) tickles the ivories at the local dive bar.  He’s put an illustrious but tragic past as a concert pianist behind him.  But trouble comes knocking on his door when his brother Chico (Albert Rémy) shows up, on the run from two thugs (Claude Mansard, Daniel Boulanger) whom he’s cheated out of their end of a heist.  Now Charlie is in danger, as is his new girlfriend Léna (Marie Dubois) and younger brother Fido (Richard Kanayan).

This has plenty of the trappings of a noir: a haunted past, a lengthy flashback, tragic demises, shady characters, shootouts, smoky bars and sultry music.  But it’s twisted with a nouvelle vague sensibility.  At the very beginning, we meet a character and get a peek into his life, then he walks away, never to be seen again.  The film has such a sense of freedom that one feels as if the camera could follow him instead of Chico and that would be just fine.  With a knowing self-awareness, a prostitute (Michèle Mercier) covers her breasts with a sheet and says, “This is how it’s done in the movies.”  Charlie and Léna exchange a pleasant farewell with their would-be kidnappers.  And one of the thugs makes a strange boast and swears it’s true or else his mother should keel over… and Truffaut gives us a brief and comical cutaway of her doing just that.

There is a feeling that anything can happen, that any detail is worth exploring… but still the characters have a destiny to fulfill.  Even in a New Wave noir, fate has the final word.  The liveliness of the direction, editing and cinematography is only counterpoint to the harsh realities of life lived in the margins, of human frailty up against a tough world.

The central performances are all endearing.  Aznavour’s square face and kind but sad eyes make for a compelling protagonist, Dubois is cute as a button and filled with heartfelt loyalty, Rémy carries the same aura of playful mischief that he brought to The 400 Blows.  Mercier has an appropriate seductiveness, and it’s a delight to see young Kanayan (also from 400 Blows) return.  Really the only guy I don’t like in the movie is Boby Lapointe, the bouncy mustachioed singer in the bar.  That guy just bugs me.

With a hatful of surprises and a lovely score by Georges Delerue, Truffaut crafts one of his most memorable and entertaining films.  Full of wonderful moments.  Rating: Very Good (88)

IMDb
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