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The Man Who Loved Women

The Man Who Loved Women(1977)

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At first glance, the comedy The Man Who Loved Women (1977) might seem like an odd sidestep in Franois Truffaut's career, but in fact it reflects some of his central concerns as a filmmaker. The basic plot-the life and death of Bertrand Morane (Charles Denner), a serial womanizer-allows Truffaut to explore the intricacies of romantic relationships, a theme that he revisited throughout his career. Like many of his films, it also has underlying autobiographical resonance. In this case, the flashback sequence of Bertrand as a child with his mother clearly refers to Truffaut's own childhood. One can also find echoes of the film's detailed depiction of writing and book publishing as far back as Jules and Jim (1962), though this motif reaches its fullest expression in the Ray Bradbury adaptation Fahrenheit 451 (1966).

In a 1977 interview for the French magazine Cinmatographe, Truffaut commented, "The idea for this one goes back ten years, to when I first worked with Charles Denner in The Bride Wore Black (1968): that's the only part of the film I like. He had a sort of monologue when Jeanne Moreau was posing for him. I very much liked his voice, his way of reciting a text which, without him, would have seemed cynical. I thought at that time that it was he who could best embody a man haunted by women." Truffaut also compared the character of Bertrand to the title character of the Balzac novel Eugenie Grandet, a lifelong miser who dies as he reaches out to grab the priest's gold crucifix. Truffaut further emphasized the central thematic role of Bertrand's decision to write a memoir: "Since Fahrenheit 451 I tried to show in a film the exact process a book goes through: writing, typing, correction, proof sheets, print. That worked in well with the story here: Denner's disappointment with Genevive Fontanel gives him the need to lay his life out flat to see it clearly."

According to one of Truffaut's letters from 1976, the project was originally titled L'Homme femmes (The Ladies' Man). Some sources also list a working title of Le Cavaleur (The Skirt Chaser), which also happens to be the initial title of the memoir that Bertrand writes in the film. Truffaut's main collaborator on the script was the playwright Michel Fermaud who, like Truffaut, had experiences with a large number of women, some of which inspired episodes in the film. Truffaut then developed the script further with his favorite assistant Suzanne Schiffman while he was on the set of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). In fact, Truffaut shot the film from October 1976 to January 1977, while Close Encounters was still in production and he was waiting to be called back for pickups.

Annette Insdorf, a leading Truffaut scholar who was present at the shooting of The Man Who Loved Women, recalls that Truffaut chose to shoot on location in Montpellier, as opposed to Paris, partly because it required the cast and crew to live together as a group and to develop a stronger emotional bond. She also recalls: "He established a feeling of warmth among the crew; an undogmatic perfectionist who requests rather than demands, Truffaut seemed to earn from co-workers a respect inseparable from affection."

The lead actor Charles Denner (1926-1995) first worked with Truffaut in The Bride Wore Black and A Gorgeous Girl Like Me (1972), though he had appeared earlier in notable French films such as Claude Chabrol's Landru/Bluebeard (1963) and Alain Jessua's Life Upside Down (1964). Brigitte Fossey, who plays the role of the editor Genevive Bigey, is probably best known for her remarkable debut performance as a child in Ren Clment's Forbidden Games (1952). Other notable roles by her include Bertrand Blier's Going Places (1974) and Claude Sautet's underrated A Bad Son (1980), where she plays a drug addict. Nelly Borgeaud (1931-2004), who plays the memorable role of the obsessive, even violent, but ultimately sympathetic Delphine, worked with Truffaut previously on Mississippi Mermaid (1969). Leslie Caron and Nathalie Baye also play significant parts in the film.

During its U.S. release Vincent Canby of the New York Times called The Man Who Loved Women a "supremely humane, sophisticated comedy," even going so far as to argue that Truffaut's film, "in the way it appreciates women in their infinite variety and understands what they're up against, is infinitely more liberated than most liberated films, which reduce women to abstract concepts." Also in the New York Times, Janet Maslin admired the film's unconventional mores, noting that "it's so curiously contemporary that it may be ahead of its time." In contrast, Pauline Kael was decidedly cool toward the film as a whole in her review for the New Yorker, complaining that Charles Denner's performance lacked the intended charm and that the script lacked psychological plausibility. In terms of awards, the film was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and received Csar nominations for Best Actor (Charles Denner) and Best Supporting Actress (Nelly Borgeaud and Genevive Fontanel). In 1983 Blake Edwards remade the film with Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews and Kim Basigner. At the time that Truffaut wrote the original script he also wrote a novelization, although it was not published in France until 2004, some twenty years after his death.

Producer: Marcel Berbert
Director: Franois Truffaut
Script: Franois Truffaut, Michel Fermaud, Suzanne Schiffman
Director of Photography: Nestor Almendros
Film Editors: Martine Barraque-Curie
Art Director: Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko
Costumes: Monique Dury
Music: Maurice Jaubert
Cast: Charles Denner (Bertrand Morane); Brigitte Fossey (Genevive Bigey); Nelly Borgeaud (Delphine Grezel); Genevive Fontanel (Hlne); Nathalie Baye (Martine); Leslie Caron (Vera); Jean Dast (Dr. Bicard); Roger Leenhardt (M. Betany); Sabine Glaser (Bernadette); Valerie Bonnier (Fabienne); Martine Chassaing (Denise); Roselyne Puyo (Nicole); Anna Perrier (Babysitter); Monique Dury (Mme Duteil); Nella Barbier (Liliane); Frederique Jamet (Juliette); M. J. Montfajon (Bertrand's Mother); Michel Marti (Young Bertrand).

by James Steffen

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