The Green Room (film)
|The Green Room|
|Directed by||François Truffaut|
|Produced by||Marcel Berbert
|Written by||Jean Gruault
|Based on||"The Altar of the Dead",
"The Beast in the Jungle" and
"The Way It Came"
by Henry James
|Music by||Maurice Jaubert|
|Editing by||Martine Barraqué-Curie|
|Studio||Les Films du Carrosse|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||94 minutes|
The Green Room (French: La chambre verte) is a 1978 French film directed by François Truffaut and based on the Henry James short story "The Altar of the Dead", in which a man becomes obsessed with the many dead people in his life and builds a memorial to honor them. It is also based on two other short stories by Henry James: "The Beast in the Jungle" and "The Way It Came". It was Truffaut's seventeenth feature film as a director and the third and last of his own films in which he acted in a leading role. It starred Truffaut, Nathalie Baye, Jean Dasté and Patrick Maléon.
Truffaut spent several years working on the films script and felt a special connection to the theme of honoring and remembering the people in one's life who have died. In the film, he included portraits of people from his own life at the main character's "Altar of the Dead". The Green Room was one of Truffaut's most highly praised films by both critics and his colleagues, but was also one of his most unsuccessful films financially.
The action takes place ten years after the end of World War I in a small town in France. The protagonist, Julien Davenne, is a war veteran who works as an editor at the newspaper "The Globe". He specializes in funeral announcements ("a virtuoso of the obituary", as defined by its editor-in- chief) and the thought of death, watched closely during the war, accompanies him at all times. On the upper floor of his house - where he lives with his elderly housekeeper Mrs. Rambaud and Georges, a deaf-mute boy - Davenne has reserved a room at the worship of his wife Julie, who died eleven years ago at the height of her beauty.
During a thunderstorm, in the green room there is a fire. Davenne manages to save pictures and portraits of his wife but he understands that what he has done is not enough. When he discovers an abandoned chapel in ruins and, at the same cemetery where Julie is buried, Julien decides to restore it to consecrate it not only to his wife but to all its dead, having reached "at that point in life where you know more dead than alive." That sacred place will be transformed into a forest of lighted candles, a forest fire that illuminates the photos hanging on the walls of all the people who have counted in his life.
To keep the chapel with him Davenne calls a young woman, Cecilia, secretary of the auction house which has regained a ring that had belonged to Julie. The friendship between the two, thanks to this complicity, it seems to evolve into a different feeling when the unexpected happens: Paul Massigny dies, the French politician who once betrayed Davenne (in the movie does not say in what constituted betrayal), after being his best friend. When he went for the first time at the home of Cecilia, who is giving piano lessons, Davenne discovers that the living room is full of pictures of Massigny and, without asking for explanations, he goes.
At the chapel, Cecilia tells him that it was one of the many women Massigny and, despite the evil that he did, she still loves him. Therefore requests that Massigny can be represented by one of the candles on the altar of the dead. At the rebuff of Davenne, Cecilia breaks the relationship and the man collapses: Closed at home, refusing to eat, to see the doctor, talking. Recommended by the managing editor of "The Globe", Cécilia then writes him a letter, and finally declares his love, knowing that he will never reciprocate, "because to be loved by you, I should be dead." Julien joins her in the chapel: Massigny forgave, but no strength falls to the ground and dies. Cécilia complete the work, as he had asked the first time, turning one last candle to Julien Davenne.
- François Truffaut as Julien Davenne
- Nathalie Baye as Cécilia Mandel
- Jean Dasté as Bernard Humbert, editor of The Globe
- Jean-Pierre Ducos as the Priest in the mortuary room
- Monique Dury as Monique, secretary at The Globe
- Jeanne Lobre as Mme Rambaud (as Jane Lobre)
- Jean-Pierre Moulin as Gérard Mazet
- Antoine Vitez as the Bishop's secretary
- Patrick Maléon as Georges
- Laurence Ragon as Julie Davenne
- Marcel Berbert as Dr. Jardine
- Christian Lentretien as the Speaker at the cemetery
- Annie Miller as Genevieve Mazet, the first Mme Mazet
- Marie Jaoul as Yvonne Mazet, the second Mme Mazet
- Guy D'Ablon as the Wax Dummy maker
- Anna Paniez as the little girl playing the piano
- Alphonse Simon as the one-legged man
- Henri Bienvenu as Gustave, the auctioneer
- Thi-Loan Nguyen as the Apprentice Artisan (as Thi-Loan N'Guyen)
- Serge Rousseau as Paul Masigny
- Jean-Claude Gasché as a Police Officer
- Martine Barraqué as a nurse at saleroom
- Josiane Couëdel as a nurse at the cemetery
- Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko as the disabled man at saleroom
- Roland Thénot as the disabled man at cemetery
- Nathan Miller as Genevieve Mazet's son
- Carmen Sardá-Cánovas as the woman with the rosary
- Gérard Bougeant as the cemetery's keeper
Background and writing
Truffaut first began work on The Green Room in December 1970 when he began reading the works of Henry James after a painful breakup with actress Catherine Deneuve. Truffaut especially liked "The Altar of the Dead" and asked his friend Aimée Alexandre to translate a new French version for him to read. Alexandre also recommended works by Anton Chekov and Leo Tolstoy that had similar themes to the James short story, while Truffaut did his own research on James's life and visited the author's home in Boston. Truffaut worked on other projects until 1974, when a new French version of the short story was published and renewed his interest in the project. He asked screenwriter Jean Gruault to write a draft of the script in July 1974.
For several years Truffaut had become increasingly interested in people from his life who had died, beginning with his mentor and father-figure André Bazin, who had died the day before Truffaut began shooting his first feature The 400 Blows. Truffaut told a reporter "I'm faithful to the dead, I live with them. I'm forty-five and already surrounded by dead people." In 1977 Truffaut also lost two other important father figures: Cinémathèque Française director Henri Langlois and Roberto Rossellini, whom Truffaut called "the most intelligent man, along with André Bazin. Around this time period Truffaut had watched his film Shoot the Piano Player for the first time in many years and noticed that half the actors had died since the film was made. In an interview with L'Express magazine Truffaut asked "Why not have the same range of feelings for the dead as for the living, the same aggressive or affectionate relationship?" and added that he wanted to film "what it would be like to show on screen a man who refuses to forget the dead."
Truffaut recommended that Gruault read James's "The Beast in the Jungle" and "The Way It Came", which also became incorporated into the film. Truffaut also knew that he wanted to change the setting of the original story to France in the 1920s and have World War I be a major factor in the plot. By the spring of 1975 Gruault had finished a first draft called La Fiancée disparue (The Vanished Fiancée). Truffaut thought the script was too long and Gruault made cuts to it. Gruault was becoming dissatisfied with working with Truffaut and was also busy writing the script for Alain Resnais's Mon oncle d'Amérique at the same time. Truffaut put the entire project on hold and eventually shot Small Change and The Man Who Loved Women. However, he continued to research the themes of The Green Room, reread Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time and Japanese literature such as the works of Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. He also asked Éric Rohmer for help with the script, but Rohmer was not interested in the project.
In October 1976, Truffaut showed a new draft to Gruault, which now included a deaf-mute child as the main character Julian Davenne's protégé and had Davenne work as an obituary writer in a small Parisian magazine. Gruault finished a new version of the script by February 1977. Truffaut worked on it with his assistant Suzanne Schiffman and completed the final draft in May 1977.
For the lead role of Julien Davenne, Truffaut first wanted to cast actor Charles Denner, but Denner was not available. Because of the personal nature of the film and the character of Julien Davenne, Truffaut decided to play the part, stating that "this film is like a handwritten letter. If you write by hand, the letter won't be perfect, the handwriting might be a bit shaky, but it will be you, your handwriting." Despite his strong feeling for the character, Truffaut was hesitant about the role and thought he may be perceived as too old. He had a wig made, but ended up not using it. It was Truffaut's third and last of his own film in which he played a leading role. He told a reporter that "it seemed to me that if I played Julien Davenne myself, it would be like writing a letter by hand rather than typing it." According to co-star Natalie Baye, Truffaut almost shut the film down altogether due to fear of a bad performance.
Baye was cast as Cécilia after having worked with her in Day for Night and The Man Who Loved Women. Baye later stated that "If Francois asked me to perform with him, it was because he knew I wasn't the kind of actress who caused problems. He could rely on me, which was very reassuring to him." Truffaut filled out the cast with Jean Dasté as Davenne's boss at The Globe, Antoine Vitez as a clergyman, Jean-Pierre Moulin as a widower that Davenne confronts in the film and Patrick Maléon as the deaf-mute child. Truffaut also cast technicians and personnel from his production company in small roles in the film.
Truffaut later told a reporter "Without being a believer, I too — like Julien Davenne — love the dead. I think we forget them too fast, we don't honor them enough. Without going as far as Davenne- who is obsessed, loving the dead more than the living- I find that remembering the dead permits one to struggle against the transience of life." On the character of Davenne, Truffaut said "ultimately, the notion of communication is parallel to that of survival. One survives not by himself but thank to others. I think I've never praised solitude in a picture. When I show a loner, I am criticizing him." When asked about what the message of The Green Room was, Truffaut said "I am for the woman and against the man. As this century approaches its end, people are becoming more stupid and suicidal, and we must fight against this. The Green Room is not a fable, not a psychological picture. The moral is: One must deal with the living! This man has neglected life. Here we have a breakdown of the idea of survival."
The Green Room was shot in the fall of 1977 in Honfleur, France with a budget of 3 million francs provided by United Artists. That summer, Truffaut scouted locations and hired his longtime collaborator Nestor Almendros as cinematographer. In order to give the film a Gothic look, Almendros would often use candle light as both source and practical lighting, with electrical lights being used to fill in the shadows. Almendros later said that despite the film's somber tone, "this film was put together with joy, and the shooting was the most pleasant" of his career. Many of the scenes were shot in the four-story Maison Troublet in Honfleur, including its large auction room and rooms depicting Davenne's residence. Other locations included the Caen cemetery and the Carbec Chapel in Saint-Pierre-du-Val. The chapel was used for Davenne's shrine to the dead. Among the portraits included in the shrine are Henry James, Oscar Wilde, an old man who played a small role in Truffaut's Two English Girls, actor Oskar Werner in a World War I uniform, Jacques Audiberti, Jean Cocteau, Raymond Queneau, Jeanne Moreau and her sister Michelle Moreau, Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin, Aimée Alexandre, Oscar Lewenstein, Marcel Proust, Guillaume Apollinaire and Sergei Prokofiev.
Filming began on October 11, 1977 and lasted until November 27, 1977. The atmosphere on the set was especially fun and Natalie Baye has stated that she and Truffaut often had laughing fits during takes. Baye also stated that she found it difficult to work with Truffaut as a director since he was focused on his own performance, and his stoic performance effected her ability to convey the emotions in scenes as she would have preferred.
Truffaut chose pre-recorded music by composer Maurice Jaubert and played it on set during certain scenes in order to create a rhythm and establish a religious, ritualistic atmosphere on the set for the cast and crew. Filmmaker François Porcile later said "It's not surprising to find, in the sudden explosive tension and somber conviction of his acting, a direct echo of Jaubert's style, with its gathering momentum and sudden restraint, its reticence and violence." The score is mostly taken from Jaubert's 1936 "Concert Flamand". Jaubert's portrait is also among those used in the film. In the film, Davenne says that "I realized that his music, full of clarity and sunlight, was the best to accompany the memory of all these dead."
Truffaut completed the editing of The Green Room in March 1978 and showed it to his trusted friends and co-workers, who immediately praised the film and called it one of his best films. Isabelle Adjani told him that "Of all your films it is the one that most moved me and spoke to me, along with Two English Girls. I felt good crying in your presence." Alain Delon told Truffaut that "The Green Room, along with Clément, Visconti and very few others, is part of my secret garden." Éric Rohmer told him that "I found your film deeply moving. I found you deeply moving in your film." Antoine Vitez told Truffaut "I haven't yet told you the emotion I felt on seeing The Green Room. What I see in it, deep down, is kindness, and that's what touches me most. Thank you for having included me in it."
The Green Room was both Truffaut's worst financial failure and one of his most critically praised films, with some calling it his best work and the only major French film critic who disliked the film was François Chalais of Le Figaro.Pascal Bonitzer called it "his most beautiful, most profound, and without much exaggeration, one of the most beautiful French films of recent years," and adding that "it is not for nothing that Truffaut embodies his character, and that in the latter, Julien Davenne, the author and the actor are entwined in the tightest possible way...rarely does a filmmaker involve himself to that point- involving his body (and note all the ambiguity of the word in the context of this funeral film) and even his dead; mixing together Julien Davenne's dead with those of François Truffaut in the flaming chapel where the film comes to an end." Joel Magny called Julien Davenne the ultimate "truffaldian" hero, "unable to live the present moment in the fullness of his being, where he is...he is in a perpetual time-lag with reality." The French magazine Télérama called Davenne "l'homme qui aimant les flammes" Jean-Louis Bory of Le Nouvel Observateur said that "In its simple and pure line, it resembles a cinematic testament. There will be other Truffaut films, but none that will ever be more intimate, more personal, more wrenching than this Green Room, altar of the dead."
The Green Room was released on April 5, 1978 and was a financial failure, selling slightly more than 30,000 tickets. Truffaut knew that a film about death would be difficult to market or attract an audience, but felt strongly that "this kind of theme can touch a deep chord in many people. Everyone has their dead." Truffaut personally took a great interest in promoting the film and hired press agent Simon Misrahi. A few days before the films premiere, Truffaut completely changed his approach of promoting the film and put more emphasis on his own track record as a filmmaker and the presence of rising star Natalie Baye. In a television appearance to promote the film, Truffaut showed two clips from the film that had nothing to do with the dead. Truffaut was extremely upset by the films financial failure and began referring to it as "The Empty Room". He publicly stated that he would not act again for at least ten years and regretted not casting Charles Denner in the lead role. Truffaut later blamed United Artists for not promoting the film properly, which led to his breaking from the US company for the first time in over ten years of collaboration and financial backing. Truffaut premiered The Green Room in the US at the 1978 New York Film Festival.
- Allen, Don. Finally Truffaut. New York: Beaufort Books. 1985. ISBN 0-8253-0335-5. pp. 236-237.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 337.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 336.
- Insdorf 1978, pp. 232.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 338.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 339.
- Insdorf 1978, pp. 220.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 339-340.
- Insdorf 1978, pp. 223.
- Insdorf 1978, pp. 222.
- Insdorf 1978, pp. 226.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 340.
- Wakeman 1988, pp. 1133.
- Insdorf 1978, pp. 224-226.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 340-341.
- Insdorf 1978, pp. 224.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 341.
- Wakeman 1988, pp. 1133-1134.
- Wakeman 1988, pp. 1134.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 341-342.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 342.
- Baecque & Toubian 1999, pp. 343-344.
- Further reading
- Baecque, Antoine de; Toubiana, Serge (1999). Truffaut: A Biography. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0375400896.
- Insdorf, Annette (1995). François Truffaut. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521478083.
- Wakeman, John (1987). World Film Directors, Volume 1. New York: The H. W. Wilson Company. ISBN 978-0824207571.