THE LAST METRO, released in 1980, was directed, produced and co-written by Francois Truffaut. In terms of awards, it remains one of the most honored French films, winning 10 César’s (their Oscars), and was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film. It earned a respectable $3,007,000 in the States, while back home in France more than 3,384,000 patrons lined up, laying out their francs to see what Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu would show them this time. *
Occupied Paris, WW2. Esteemed actress ‘Marion Steiner’ (Deneuve) works to keep her theater open, actors and artisans employed, even as a collaborationist critic schemes to take it away from her. A major issue, beyond Nazi-imposed censorship, is that her husband, writer of her new play, is Jewish. He’s also hiding in the theater cellar. The show must go on, but that’s easier said then done when the Gestapo might be in the audience. Depardieu plays the earthy leading man, Heinz Bennett the wry husband/hostage, Jean-Louis Richard the casually venomous anti-Semitic critic out to seize control of the theater.
Slow to start, and rather rushed at the end, the quiet drama in between works better, especially the witty, incisive and touching husband-wife interplay between Deneuve and Bennett and the Limbaugh-like menace provided by Richard. The behind-the-scenes detailing of the workings of the theater is well conveyed, as are various inconveniences, worries and perils of living in your own city and country under foreign occupation. The single most telling moment is when Depardieu goes to check his hat at a restaurant and the shelves behind the counter are filled with German officer’s caps.
Working against deeper emotional payoff is slow-pacing, a lack of urgency and a subsidiary romance so tentative that when it finally arrives it has neither heat nor resonance: all in, it’s decent work with less impact than the assembled talent would seem sure to guarantee.
With Jean Poiret, Andréa Ferréol (neatly registering contained contempt, as the lesbian costumer Depardieu tries clumsily and in vain to seduce), Sabine Haudepin, Maurice Risch. Cinematography by Néstor Almendros. Truffaut’s co-writer was Suzanne Schiffman, whose credits include Day For Night and The Story Of Adele H.
* Depardieu starred in six films that year, including Je vous aime, one of ten pictures in which he appeared with Deneuve.