Monday, September 8, 2008

Movies: Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player)

For such a famous film that I've hoped to see for so long, this was a bit of a disappointment. There's nothing wrong with the plot in and of itself (a piano player, trying to quietly restart his life after his wife commits suicide (having revealed that she jump-started his career by sleeping with his promoter) by changing his name and playing in a small bar, gets dragged into the mud thanks to his thuggish brothers, as well as the jealousy of the bar's proprietor when he starts up an affair with the waitress)—in fact, because the piano player is still alive at the end, and back at his bar piano (sans waitress, who's been shot), the plot is actually rather fresh, if something so dark, so resigned, so Kierkegaardian, can be "fresh."

Fresh, too, is Truffaut's lighting: dark, flickering, and often diagetic. When the piano player comes home late at night, the screen is practically black, lighting darkly in a few flashes until he finally switches on a lamp. And the next entrance in that scene is a bit surprising, too, even for a French film—the piano player's neighbor, a prostitute, comes over, undresses, and gets into bed next to him, showing her breasts (the breasts less surprising than the fact that she's a prostitute who regularly spends her off hours in his bed).

So what is it about the movie that leaves me wanting more? I haven't figured it out. Charles Aznavour is an unusual hero: a bit shorter, bigger of eye than the usual male lead, and his performance has a nervous twitchiness just right for the character, who is a lot less dashing, and a lot less hard-bitten than the usual noir protagonist. He is so tentative the first time he walks home with the waitress; we're surprised to see him so frisky with the prostitute (she remarks on it herself.) Perhaps its disappointing to see him live (though isn't that what we always wish for our criminal-heroes? Not that the piano player is a real criminal at all), plunking away at the keys at the piano bar as if nothing had happened at all.