The Soft Skin, Blu-ray (1964/2015)

Director: Francois Truffaut
Cast: Francoise Dorléac, Jean Desailly, Nelly Beneditti
Studio: KR2/Janus Films/ The Criterion Collection 749  [3/17/15]
Video: 1.66:1 for 16:9 widescreen, B&W
Audio: French PCM mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Commentary track by Screenwriter Jean-Louis Richard and Truffaut scholar Serge Toubiana, Video essay by filmmaker/critic Kent Jones, M. Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock – a 1999 documentary by film historian Robert Fischer, Truffaut interview from 1995, Essay by critic Molly Haskell in illustrated printed booklet
Length: 117 min.
Rating: ***** 

This Truffaut film was made at the same time the director was working on his book of interviews with his major influence, Alfred Hitchcock, and that influence can be clearly seen throughout this film, especially in the violent conclusion. The lead, which Truffaut makes no effort to seem likeable, is a literary scholar (an expert on Balzac) who is married to a dark-haired Latino extremely sensitive to the adultery situation, and has a young daughter. He starts an affair with a beautiful stewardess who likes his charm and reputation. (Francoise Dorleac, the sister of Catherine Deneuve, who was to be killed in an auto accident two years later just after Truffaut’s musical The Young Girls of Rochefort.)

The film becomes more anxious after the romance gets serious. The husband separates from his wife, buys an apartment for the two of them, and is showing it to the stewardess when she explains that isn’t what she wants and leaves him. He is shown as basically just an ordinary man with his weaknesses and his desire for happiness, while Nicole, the stewardess, lives her life from one moment to the next, without considering the consequences of her actions. Fans of the Citroen DS-21 will love that he drives one (as I once did.)

The film was booed and was a considered a big flop when first released, but these many years later it stands up well, as one of the great films from a great filmmaker. One never minds that it’s just in black and white. The many extras, as usual with Criterion, are a goldmine of information about Truffaut, Hitchcock and the film itself.

—John Sunier