In The Last Metro, Andréa Ferréol plays the actress whom Gerard Depardieu craves, ‘like for a warm croissant,’ he says. Most of the characters in The Last Metro are defined by how they react to the claustrophobic German occupation of Paris, but Ferréol’s character Arlette seems to miss out here and functions as a foil for others, and weirdly we never see her out of the theatre situation or find out anything about her character, other than the fact she is lesbian.
It’s not enough, and it you’re not prepared then The Last Metro may be dull for you. Everything is closed in the film, including all the windows, which Truffaut traditionally kept open in his work, and perhaps it’s better when you know the need-to-know stuff such as that actor Jean Marais whose real-life thrashing of the Je Suis Partout drama critic Alain Laubreaux was the basis for one of the key scenes in the movie, between Depardieu and actor Jean-Louis Richard.
The Last Metro’s power is tied up in subtleties developed from the situation, that is the Nazis and the Occupied French are living in such proximity, and while the intermingling story lines present a loving picture of theatre and theatre people, it does leave out characters like Andréa Ferréol . There’s a fair whip of crowd-pleasing fluff throughout it, and constant discussion of the war in Europe.
In this much Truffaut succeeded in making a war film which doesn’t show fighting and soldiers, but shows different kinds of equally deadly battles. The story of the critic Daxiat is particularly satisfying and allying the chief critic with the Nazis has a certain amount of power. The Nazis grant the critic actual formal powers, thus allowing him to purge the theatre with his poisonous pen and radio broadcasts, but this isn’t a typical Paris-under Occupation drama. Instead the drama is all underlying in terms of the constant threat and the desperate moves the characters need to make.
The Last Metro won 10 Césars, along with many other awards and nominations, and rave professional reviews, but it’s hard to say why, unless you want to consider the subject. When artists say what needs to be said, that’s always a cause for celebration. The oppressive communal presence of the Germans is opportunity for a good amount of creepy surprises and also allows us to see everyone’s reaction; some are pragmatic like Jean Poiret’s character, while others sympathise with the Germans and use the situation to their advantage, and others like Depardieu’s character can’t help but resist.
But thirty five years have passed and I’ve noticed that nobody talks so much about the War these days, not like you would hear in the 1970s and 1980s. The Last Metro has the War in spades, hence its classification as a war movie. The French Resistance is played so continually throughout the history of all post-War cinema, and so consistently that all the pride the nation feels in them can be justified; adding the story of one theatre to this mix brings an almost idyllic layer of beauty.