The Last Metro is a 1980 Francois Truffaut French film of well over two hours, about Paris under Nazi occupation, one of four or five films on that period of recent French history I’ve seen since I started writing these pieces. In few if any of them do the French (because all or most of them have been French movies) make themselves out to be particularly heroic.
This one is no exception, though it’s not as condemnatory as some of the others. It’s more mixed. It makes it clear that there were plenty of French trying to ingratiate themselves with the invaders (or maybe just using that as an excuse for their own anti-Semitism) by turning in Jews, but only one of the main characters is a clear bad guy like that. The rest are sullenly making whatever minimal adjustments they have to to survive and trying to get on with their lives, or they’re involved to some degree in anti-Nazi activities, either with the military Resistance, or trying to assist Jews to hide or escape.
The story takes place in a theater in Paris, owned (previously) by a Jewish man, but now turned over to his Gentile wife (Catherine Deneuve). He has supposedly fled the country, but what no one knows except her is that he is hiding in the basement of the theater. It’s actually a pretty nice spread, like a good-sized apartment, and she comes down to be with him as often as possible, but of course he’s going stir crazy.
Meanwhile, the wife—who in addition to now being the owner is also an actress—is staging the play he was all set to put on before he “fled.” He listens to the rehearsals and such from down below, and feeds her suggestions for improvement.
They’ve gotten a big shot actor (Gerard Depardieu) to play the male lead opposite the wife.
This is not an “action” movie, per se. The kind of stuff you might associate with the set up—military battles, spies, torture, concentration camps, sabotage, daring rescues or escapes, etc., etc.—is rarely more than implied. You understand that that’s the context in which all this is occurring, but that’s really not what the movie is “about” on the surface.
90% or more of the movie is a talky, psychological drama about how all these people involved with the play interact and develop relationships. For example, the theater owner’s wife is very supportive and loving toward her husband, but there’s no shortage of tension over the fact that he’s now so totally dependent on her, and that she’s free while he’s not (which means, among other things, that she and Depardieu can potentially develop feelings for each other).
With my taste in movies, I’m certainly not going to say that because there aren’t constant gun battles and explosions I was disappointed. I’m fine with a movie that’s more about relationships and psychological and emotional issues. And this is an intelligent, well-made movie of that type.
Yet when all is said and done, I was mildly bored throughout this film. I cared a little about the characters and their interactions, but only a little. I come away from it with far, far less to say than the vast majority of movies I see.
My sense is that—and no doubt the vast majority of critics would disagree—Truffaut approached or gestured toward many promising issues, but then backed off without really exploring them. The result being that the filmmaking, including the acting, is fine in its technical aspects, but The Last Metro is fundamentally unsatisfying, and not one that I can recommend.