Truffaut’s Emotional Response to Women: How it Shapes What He Says About Women in His Films?

I will start with Truffaut’s first film, 400 Blows (1959), and derive what he might have felt towards women since that film is the most directly autobiographical one of all his films. As a boy, Antoine, who can be thought of as Truffaut’s alter ego, is seen as being rejected constantly by his mother in the film. She yells at him a lot, does not give him affection, and remarks at one point how Antoine ‘gets on her nerves’ to her husband.

Antoine does not reject his mother even though he is a rebel at school and in general to his parents. He even tries to “obey” his mother when she offers him money to do well in school, although it was not kindness on her part, but selfish fear that Antoine will tell the father about her affair. This lack of love from his mother seems to create a longing in Antoine for love that he never received in childhood.

In addition, it is known in psychotherapy that when someone does not receive the love they needed in childhood from their mother, the most important person to receive it from, other emotions get created in response to that lack. Emotions like anger, obsession, idealization, and even hatred can be a child’s response, and of course left uncared for or dealt with, these emotions will stay with the child through adulthood. Therefore, Antoine (Truffaut) continues to express a longing for the love of his mother including many other emotions toward women in general, in Truffaut’s other Antoine series films and many of Truffaut’s other films.

In Jules and Jim (1961), for instance, we see how women are both idealized and disliked strongly. The theme of longing continues for Truffaut through the character of Jules and his unconditional desire for Catherine. Her face was used to sculpt a beautiful bust that Jules immediately fell in love with. This associates her with ideal beauty. In this way, Truffaut puts women far above himself and mimics the ‘unattainable’ image he has of them. Jules also was not able to leave Catherine, in spite of her promiscuity, in possible hopes that she would then never leave him. A secret longing of Truffaut’s, I am sure, since his mother in real life did leave him (as shown in 400 Blows, they sent him off to boarding school).

There was also the feeling of distrust or hatred of women in Jules and Jim. When Jules (coincidentally?), the one who idealized Catherine, was speaking about women in general to an acquaintance. He expressed many displeasing and demeaning words towards women calling them ‘evil’ and ‘corrupt’ and ‘unfit to go to church’. He quoted these words from another man, but when quoting them he used his own original expressions like: ‘and this is the most beautiful part’, which suggests he fully agreed with the quotes.

Also, at one point when Jules was explaining why he could never leave Catherine to Jim, one of his reasons was that ‘because she is a real woman’. Since we saw Catherine as being portrayed as controlling (picking and choosing lovers on whim and mood) and unreliable (could not stick with only one man) as her two most obvious qualities, I concluded that Jules had so much constant desire for her because she had the courage to be and do what she wanted.

However, these qualities struck me as somewhat negative since there seemed to be little heart or consideration of the men’s feelings as she did what she wanted. But, at the same time she was seen as a “liberated” woman of her day (the 60’s). Still, the association that these qualities were in fact “what defined a real woman” to Jules, seemed like an attempt to wrap up a woman in a nutshell to me, since Catherine, despite her bubbly charm, was immature and child-like when it came to adult themes such as love, responsibility, and commitment. Perceiving her character in this “little girl” sort of way, made me think that that must be what Jules defined as a “real woman” which to me is misogynist since it seems a “little girl” is in no way an equal or peer to a grown man.

I also saw both idealization and contempt for women in Truffaut’s short film Les Mistons (1957). Here, the group of little boys seem almost obsessed with following the two lovers around. The woman of the couple is focused on and filmed more than the man. In one of the first scenes, we see the boys follow the woman by bicycle, and stop to approach her bike after she has left it. One of the boys sniffs the bicycle seat of the woman’s bike. A cute gesture, but only a young boy full of love or idealization would do that.

The rest of the film is seen how they follow her and then the couple around town. They mimic and make fun of the couple as they kiss and do romantic things. This could suggest that Truffaut, still so affected by his mother, could not really understand how romantic involvement with a woman could be anything but silly. Of course, this is to be expected of children, that they do not really understand, but what better medium for Truffaut to use to express himself?

It might have been a different film if he used a child that was actually in love with an older woman, or even a young girl, and sincerely so. He didn’t necessarily have to make the child act silly or aggressive about the romantic parts. But he chose to, and therefore it makes me think, why? Then, at the end when the boys “get revenge” as they call it by sending the post card to the woman saying how they are the lover of her, etc. . ., it is clear that Truffaut has more emotions in reaction to women than just casual/normal childhood game playing and trickery.

Of all the films of Truffaut’s shown in class, he portrays the women as either a sexy lover type or a mother. There are no “regular” women that are not in someway in response to the men. In The Wild Child (1970), the housekeeper is literally the doctor’s servant and caretaker of the child. She has “no life” of her own, as we know it.

In Shoot the Piano Player (1960) there was his old girlfriend and his new one (also with a child). The new girlfriend is snappy in her talking back to the bartender guy, which gives her an independent image, but it seems her character serves the purpose as the fantasy of the piano player’s desire. It is sexy to him to have a “hotheaded” girlfriend, so it seems.

In 400 Blows, there is just one woman, the mother, and unsatisfied at that. In Jules and Jim, Catherine is the primary sex object (although intriguing), while Jim’s other girlfriend, we just see as “his girlfriend” and know little about her. The girl in the social scene with ‘no brains’ as a man explains by hitting her on the head, obviously is not an independent woman figure. Again, the women in the Antoine series films are there because of some attraction Antoine feels for them.

So, in conclusion, it is possible that because of Truffaut’s feelings of rejection and abandonment by his mother, that he was unable to make a movie where the woman was separate from him (his male characters), and had no use or interest in them. This could be one emotional response to women, as shown in his films, simply because he has never known a woman in any other context, or perceived them to be such , since his own emotions and what women “did for him” took precedence.

Since Truffaut has portrayed a range of emotional responses towards women through their characters, it is reasonable to conclude that he felt these feelings himself towards women in his real life, or was trying to make a point about the stereotypes women are forced into. I find it hard to believe that he would make a film to dispel or expose the unfairness of stereotypes, when his films seem so personal and arise from his own experiences with his mother from childhood, which were not healthy feelings, rather ones of intense craving or angry pushing away. Knowing this, that he felt very hurt/abandoned by his mother, it is easy to conclude that he must have felt both the insatiable desire for a woman’s love, and the anger and contempt at never really receiving the love he sought throughout adulthood.

It is interesting to me that he made no films (to my knowledge at least) where a male character does end up happy and getting all the love he wants from a woman, with no compromises. Meaning, no strange twists, like in Jules and Jim, Jules manages to “hang onto” Catherine, but doesn’t seem to really have a fulfilling relationship with her, as Catherine explains once to Jim, ‘don’t worry, he is just satisfied with my presence’. Is that really what he wants though? In Shoot the Piano Player, Charlie’s girlfriend gets shot in the end. Another loss and interruption to his love and happiness. Also, in Stolen Kisses (1968), Antoine finally gets to be with Christine in the end, after great effort.

However, a strange man comes up and professes his undying love to Christine without even looking at Antoine, not even once. This must have made Antoine feel insecure and bothered. Which it seems, is how Truffaut might truly feel about his relationships with women in general. Since not even his mother was able to love him forever, then why any other woman? It’s as if Truffaut is expecting and waiting at any moment that what little love he finds can be taken away, in a snap. It also seems apparent that it was more important to express his feelings of loss in his films by repeating how his relationships with women never work out, than it was to truly get what he wanted, which was a lasting love. It is possible, that Truffaut did not even believe in a lasting love, based on his life experiences.

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