Born on February 6, 1932, in Paris, France, François Truffaut went on to become a leading figure in the New Wave movement with acclaimed films like The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim. His 1973 film Day for Nightwon an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and subsequent works included Small Change, The Last Metro and The Woman Next Door. An actor and critic as well, he died on October 21, 1984.
François Truffaut was born on February 6, 1932, in Paris, France. With the identity of his biological father later becoming a mystery, François's mother, Janine de Monferrand, wed Roland Truffaut, with her husband giving his surname to her son. Yet the couple ultimately never allowed the boy to live with them; he was looked after by a wet nurse until, as a toddler, he was taken in and raised by his maternal grandmother and grandfather.
A devoted moviegoer as a youngster, Truffaut quit school as a teen before working and getting in trouble with the law for theft. He was later drafted into the military, though he was discharged as a conscientious objector.
Continuing his devotion to cinema, Truffaut was eventually mentored by André Brazin, a prominent film critic who gave Truffaut an opportunity to express his own ideas via writing for the publication Cahiers du Cinema. There Truffaut critiqued the rigid conventions of traditional French movies and put forth the auteur theory of cinema, maintaining that film should be seen as a nuanced representation of a director's personal vision and/or experience.
New Wave Director
After directing the shorts Une Visite (1954) and Les Miston (1957), Truffaut received widespread recognition for his feature-length big-screen debut, The 400 Blows, an iconic 1959 semi-autobiographical work that followed the travails of youngster Antoine Doinel, played by actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, who would continue the role in future Truffaut films. Truffaut won the Cannes Best Director prize for Blows, receiving a screenwriting Academy Award nomination as well and more importantly becoming a key figure in his country's Nouvelle Vague, or New Wave, movement of moviemaking.
Truffaut followed up with 1960's Shoot the Piano Player and 1962's Jules and Jim, with the latter often considered a defining work that chronicled the story of two men and a woman caught in a layered romantic triangle.
Truffaut developed a reputation for having an on-screen sensitivity to women, children and relationships' intricacies not often seen from male directors. Some of his additional work over the ensuing decade included Fahrenheit 451—an English-language 1966 adaptation of the Ray Bradbury dystopic novel—as well as The Wild Child (1970) and Two English Girls (1971).
Truffaut's 1973 film Day for Night, which chronicled the hijinks of making a movie, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as receiving nominations for its direction, screenplay and supporting actress Valentina Cortese. Night was followed by The Story of Adele H. (1975) along with several more works like the comedic The Man Who Loved Women (1977) and the World War II drama The Last Metro (1980), starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu.
Truffaut was an actor as well, having appeared in some of his own films in addition to Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)as a thoughtful, kindhearted scientist. And Truffaut published books such as 1967's Hitchcock, where the French filmmaker interviewed the London-born, U.S.-based director, and The Films in My Life (1975), a hand-picked collection of Truffaut's earlier criticism.
Truffaut's last film was 1983's Confidentially Yours, a thriller starring Fanny Ardant. He was also romantically involved with the actress, with the couple having a daughter. (Truffaut, who had other children as well, had been married and divorced previously.)
Unable to direct due to illness, Truffaut died on October 21, 1984, at the age of 52, from brain cancer in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a Parisian suburb. He left behind a film legacy of more than two dozen works revered by an array of critics and countless general moviegoers. Posthumous works on his life include the documentaries François Truffaut: Stolen Portraits (1993) and Two in the Wave (2010, which also profiles director Jean-Luc Godard) as well as the 1999 biography Truffaut.
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