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La peau douce
cast: Jean Desailly, Françoise Dorléac, and Nelly Benedetti

director: Francois Truffaut

113 minutes (PG) 1964
widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) is an academic, living in Paris with his wife Franca (Nelly Benedetti) and six-year-old daughter. One day, flying to Lisbon to attend a conference on Balzac he meets Nicole (Françoise Dorléac), a young airhostess. He meets her again in Paris and they become lovers...
   La peau douce (known in English as either Silken Skin or Soft Skin) was Truffaut's fourth feature and was something of a departure for him. His earlier films were notable for their warmth towards their characters. Here he tried for something cooler, more distanced. And also a more modern love story, one with "planes, elevators... all the harassments of modern life." The result is only partially successful. It's not so much cool as cold, told entirely from the viewpoint of Pierre. Although Jean Desailly does his best, he's not playing a likeable character, and the film seems irresolute as to whether we're meant to identify with him or not. The two women in his life aren't much more than ciphers. The late Dorléac (sister of Catherine Deneuve) makes more of her character than is in the script. Nelly Benedetti doesn't feature much until the final half hour, and the film is saddled with an ending that lurches into violent melodrama. Ultimately, it's Pierre's story, and as it goes on it's hard to escape the feeling that he's a cold, cowardly control freak who deserves most of what he gets. However, as craft, the film is eminently watchable. Truffaut's direction is grace and precision incarnate, and he paces the film very well. This was the last film Truffaut made in black and white for a while (though he returned to monochrome with The Wild Child and Vivement dimanche!), and Raoul Coutard's camerawork is another plus. Truffaut's determination to be contemporary makes the film a fascinating time capsule of 1964. Not the best Truffaut then, but fans will certainly want to see this.
   The DVD has an anamorphic picture in the ratio of 1.66:1 (La peau douce was Truffaut's first feature not to be shot in scope, and he kept to the narrower ratio for the remainder of his career). The soundtrack is the original French, in Dolby digital 2.0 mono, with optional English subtitles. Extras: introduction to the film by Serge Toubiana, commentary by screenwriter Jean-Louis Richard, a 1965 interview with Truffaut discussing scenes from the film, Françoise Dorléac featurette, original trailer, trailers for Tartan's Truffaut collection.
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