Director: François Truffaut
Writer: Michel Fermaud, Suzanne Schiffman, and François Truffaut
Cinematographer: Néstor Almendros
Producer: Marcel Berbert
by Jon Cvack
It was after finishing Truffaut’s most popular work - The 400 Blows (1959), Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jules and Jim (1962), and Day and Night (1973), Small Change (1976) - and then moving onto his other work that I started to realize that he an obsessive interest in shitty men cheating on their wives or partners with young and beautiful women. After The 400 Blows and Antoine and Colette (1962), the rest of the series follows an increasingly self-centered man who compulsively cheats on the women around him. With two of his films left available on Netflix, I saw that sure enough The Man Who Loved Women and The Soft Skin (1964) once again explored the topic. Yet while the latter film offers a gripping and expertly crafted story on desire, The Man Who Loved Women falls victim to the era; sensationalizing a serial philanderer.
The story follows a middle aged sex addict Bertrand Morane (Charles Denner) who obsesses over sleeping with as many women as possible. In pure Truffaut fashion, he has a bizarre job where he tests large boat and airplane models in pools and wind tunnels, which operates at the precipice of distraction. We listen as he explains how much Bertrand loves women’s legs, and watch as he, with ease, convinces nearly all of the beautiful women he approaches to sleep with him. The achievements inspire him to start typing out a book on his pursuits, allowing him to reflect on all his conquests.
He remembers a middled shop owner Hélène (Geneviève Fontanel) who while exploring the relationship, later confesses that she only sleeps with men thirty years or younger. He then learns that a Doctor’s exhibitionist wife he once met, Delphine Grezel (Nelly Borgeaud), is getting out of prison, reflecting on all the risky places they elected to have sex and how an attempt to murder her husband landed her in jail. Eventually, Bertrand gets gonorrhea, and struggles with having to stop having sex for a few weeks until it cures.
He soon finishes the manuscript and submits it off to publishers, cautioned that publishing is very much a matter of who you know and only the most talented writers could ever get their books released. Sure enough it gains the attention of one Paris’s top publishers, making its way to the editor’s desk where three men decide it’s too risque to publish, but sure enough a woman Geneviève Bigey (Brigitte Fossey) vouches for it, believing that it demonstrates the complexity of a man. The two then start seeing each other. Bertrand gets a bit nervous about the book, attempts to cancel it when remembering he left an old girlfriend out. Geneviève prevents the revision, and the books released, titled “The Man Who Loved Women”. However, Bertand still can’t control his obsession, soon chasing girls into a busy street where he gets hit, later dying in the hospital while pursuing a nurse.
It’s never mentioned or suggested that Bertrand is a sex addict, and given its 1977 release and a USA remake of the same name with Burt Reynolds in 1982, it seems like another film where the humor has failed to age, completely shifting into a relatively disgusting story that’s not funny enough to even consider a comedy anymore. Truffaut seemed to throw in Geneviève the editor as even he couldn’t accept how gross a scene is with four old male editors drooling over a middle aged man’s manuscript about all the women he’s slept with.
It leaves me wondering about the story’s purpose. There are still about half a dozen Truffaut films I haven’t seen which aren’t available - The Story of Adele H. (1975), Two English Girls (1971), The Wild Child (1970), Confidentially Yours (1983), and Mississippi Mermaid (1969) - all of which I assume Criterion will release over the next few years. About half of these deal with a man cheating on his partner with another woman. To think that he’s not even remembered for most of these films makes me wonder what he was possibly searching for. Only engaged, but never married until he was almost fifty years old (four years after this movie), it makes me wonder how autobiographical these stories are, or whether he was simply struggling with the fantasy and used film to express the imaginings. Yet there’s something deeply personal about how he sees these men, and if pressed, it feels like these films are very much taken from real life.
Even saying that makes me feel guilty, as there’s far more to an artist than their personal life. Tragic enough, Truffaut would die three years after getting married.
The story simply feels voyeuristic at times, as though I’m getting far too intimate a look at another person. It’s worth checking out if you’re working through Truffaut. It’s fairly well made, but I’m unsure when I’d ever return to it.
BELOW: Burt Reynold's remake
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