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Francois Truffaut - Friday Night Spotlight
Remind Me

A Story of Water

Few films can sport a directorial credit as astonishing as the short film Une histoire d'eau (1961), or A Story of Water, the only film sharing director credit between cinematic giants François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Both men were pioneering founders of the French New Wave alongside fellow film writers from Cahiers du cinemalike Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol, and Truffaut was one of the authors of the original treatment for Breathless ( À bout de soufflé), Godard's 1960 directorial debut.

The idea for the short began when Paris was ravaged by a severe flood in 1961, resulting in waterlogged streets. "I thought it was a shame it should survive only in a documentary," Truffaut remarked about the aftermath in an interview for the Fédération Française des Ciné-clubs. He went to producer Pierre Braunberger, who had just worked with Truffaut on Shoot the Piano Player (1960), and suggested the idea of building a romantic narrative with two actors around the setting while it still existed.

Claude Chabrol even lent out his own car for the production, which was touted by both directors as an homage to silent short maestro Mack Sennett. Godard lent his talents as narrator, offering offbeat commentary over the simple story, and Truffaut also cited Godard's gift for montage for the final assembly of the film.

In contrast to the sweet nature of the storyline, the title itself is a cheeky allusion to the most scandalous erotic novel of that era, Pauline Réage's 1954 S&M study Histoire d'O,. However, you won't find a trace of that book's themes here as an anonymous girl, Caroline Dim, uses various modes of transportation to make her way into Paris and finds help from a young man played by Jean-Claude Brialy.

One of the earliest and brightest actors of the French New Wave, Brialy had proven his mettle in Chabrol's first two watershed films, Le Beau Serge (1958) and Les Cousins (1959), and even had a bit role in Truffaut's debut, The 400 Blows (1959). His charming performance here made him the logical choice to star in Godard's next feature, A Woman Is a Woman (1961), and he went on to appear in numerous major films like Philippe de Broca's King of Hearts (1966) and Eric Rohmer's Claire's Knee (1970). He also reunited with Truffaut to play one of the five men on Jeanne Moreau's hit list in The Bride Wore Black (1968), a considerably darker look at male/female relationships than this one.

Both directors realized the film was a minor diversion unlikely to earn back the producer's investment, but when they were finished bearing 600 meters of film, they presented it as a sort of gift to him. A snapshot of Paris during a transitional time both in reality and in film history, it could also be seen as a gift for movie fans with the opportunity to see two major filmmakers enjoying themselves in between their more famous, recognizable feature-length masterpieces.

By Nathaniel Thompson

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