The film lion of the moment, France’s François Truffaut, was to be the subject of a tribute that fall evening in 1973. Only 42, Truffaut had captured the hearts of millions of filmgoers with his charming films.
By Miguel Pendás
An excited audience sipped champagne in the lobby of the Palace of Fine Arts, waiting anxiously for the sold-out event to begin. The film lion of the moment, France’s François Truffaut, was to be the subject of a tribute that fall evening in 1973. Only 42, Truffaut had captured the hearts of millions of filmgoers with his charming films like Jules and Jim, Shoot the Piano Player and Stolen Kisses. His popular book on Hitchcock had come out in 1967.
Truffaut’s latest, Day for Night, an exuberant celebration of the joy of making movies, had debuted the night before, and Truffaut was here with leading lady Jacqueline Bisset (his leading lady in real life as well). The audience was treated to a two-hour clips program from ten of his 13 films put together by Martin Rubin. "All my films are autobiographical to some extent," said Truffaut in response to a question from the audience. "As I watched the clips, I felt as if someone had opened a box of personal letters."
"François Truffaut and his film," wrote Paine Knickerbocker in the Chronicle, "is what the Festival should be. In 17 years, no occasion has so captured the spirit of the event."
That was Truffaut’s first visit to San Francisco. Seven years later, in 1980, his daughter was a student at UC Berkeley, and the Festival invited him to premiere The Last Metro. "Laura Truffaut called," wrote Festival program director Albert Johnson in his notes. "She has talked to her father, and he would very much like to have his film shown in the Festival here."
The arrangements were made and once again Truffaut came with his leading lady (in real life too), but this time it was Catherine Deneuve. Society columnist Pat Steger was all over it: "Director François Truffaut was out on the town Saturday accompanied by his daughter Laura and actress Catherine Deneuve," she wrote. "Dinner at Bali’s and then on for cappuccino and chatter with Jeannette Etheredge at Tosca Café."
Four years later Truffaut was dead of a brain tumor at the age of 52. The rebellious youth and protegé of André Bazin who went on to become a pioneer of the French New Wave, the originator of what came to be known as the auteur theory, a passionate, intelligent, committed filmmaker.