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Shoot the Piano Player - 1960

Shoot the Piano Player - 1960

Director(s): François Truffaut

Writer(s): François Truffaut and Marcel Moussy (screenplay) / David Goodis (novel)

Cinematography by: Raoul Coutard

Editor(s): Claudine Bouché and Cécile Decugis

Cast: Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Michèle Mercier, Serge Davri, Claude Mansard, Albert Rémy and Jean-Jacques Aslanian

Review:

Once you start to dig in a bit into the history of cinema, and the pillar names that hold up the films you love today - there is one that repeatedly comes up, and that is François Truffaut — regarded as one of the founders of the French New Wave, one of the most influential movements in the history of cinema. While Truffaut is commonly known for his 1959 film The 400 Blows and his interview/book with Alfred Hitchcock - his career lasted over three decades producing over twenty fantastic films. Today we explore one of them (thanks to the Criterion Channel and Lon Harris), 1960's Shoot the Piano Teacher.

The story follows a pianist named Charlie (Aznavour), who likes to keep to himself, keeping his job separate from his personal life. Unfortunately for him, his past does not care, and it comes back to haunt him in the form of his older brother shows up after escaping from two gangsters that were tracking him down. When the gangsters cannot find his brothers, they turn their attention to Charlie, his son, and the waitress, Léna (Dubois, he had been courting - forcing Charlie to take matters into his own hands.

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Truffaut's screenplay plays with the audience's expectations in how noir stories usually play out - as each scene in this genre often pushes the tension and the sense of dread forward.  While Truffaut does place its characters in almost unwinnable situations, he injects humor and slapstick comedy that takes you by surprise and deflates whatever tension he has built up. Truffaut has famously said that he got bored by the noir format and want to do something different, that is why his villains are almost cartoon parodies of what they usually would be - making them the best source of comedy in the film. Another aspect that goes against the grain of the noir genre is the POV narration of the lead, as it is usually the tormented soul or broken hero trying to get a grip on the situation, and here our hero is trying to muster up courage to grab a girl’s hand or is second-guessing everything he is doing.

This tone is also kept thanks to the fantastic work of Charles Aznavour as the lead and the rest of the cast embracing this parody of the genre. Aznavour's ability to jump from cool calm and mysterious to a flat out goofy piano player in a situation way above his head. Georges Delerue's upbeat score does play a big part as well, and the clever editing - especially during my favorite joke, "may my mother peal over if I am lying," is a significant part of this film's success.

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Shoot the Piano Player is a parody of the noir genre, that is so well done on all fronts that it passes as another perfect entry into the genre. Aznavour's unusually lead is cool calm and collected as he puffs away at his cigarette hidden all his insecurities and flaws from the outside world, makes him one of the most relatable "heroes" I have seen in a noir film. A person rarely lives up the hype - but Truffaut managed to surpass the hype, and I now cannot wait to watch everything I can get my hands on from his filmography.

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