My Gleanings

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Francois Truffaut and Jean Genet

This is my translation of the entry for Jean Genet from Le Dictionnaire Truffaut edited by Antoine de Baecque and Arnaud Guigue. Noel Herpe provided this entry and it appears on pages 178-179.

Jean Genet is, first off, the great literary mirror of Truffaut, a child, if not criminal, at least, unloved and made to feel guilty by all the forms of bourgeois order...In the state of rebellion and aimlessness that is his right after the war, when he has just become seduced by another anarchic self-exaltation, that of Sacha Guitry's Le roman d'un tricheur, we learns that the young man selected the author of The Thief's Journal as a writing master, through a process of psychological identification where an autobiographical undertaking takes shape. This double dimension is plain in this 1951 letter to Robert Lachenay:
"I have article 'Jean Genet, My Comrade'. I don't know if it will be published because of established morality...If you somewhere happen on The Thief's simply is overwhelming, a little like J-J Rousseau (whom I have not read!).
The article wasn't published, but sent to Genet by Gallimard, young man scored a cordial invitation from the writer to pay him a visit...It is the beginning of a friendship which presents slightly the libertarian side of Bazinian messianism: while the apostle of Travail et Culture helped Truffaut to be (re)born in cinephile engagement, Genet cultivate alternatively his desire for encounter and his hatred of dogma.
Undergoing a moral crisis on the threshold of his 40s, he threw himself into this double renewal, "...when I saw you entering my room, I thought I saw myself, almost an hallucination, when I was 19. I do hope that you will preserve, for a long time, this severity of regard and this unaffected, and a little unfortunate, way of expressing yourself."
Genet remained a careful standard for Truffaut throughout his military and guardhouse ordeals, sending him letters, books and other things. There developed between them an odd doomed bond, as if both of them recognize in the other his aura of depression - and wanted to make of it an epical glory through a number of acts which would establish their independence
For Truffaut, in custody as an army deserter, the first of these acts transpires by the keeping of an intimate journal in the manner of Genet, in which the diarist is already beginning a mise-en-scene of his interiority.
"We go to the showers in handcuffs. The first time I was embarrassed since we must cross through the hospital and people stared us down. Then I was ashamed of my shame, for doesn't the Genetienne posture command me to take pride in meriting handcuffs? So, now, before going to the showers, I light a cigarette and set my mouth into a satisfied smile with a touch of aggression."
Beyond this mimicry, Truffaut, in his polemics, practices Genet's lessons most violently by passing from the role of pariah to that of arbiter of precedences; by inverting the hierarchy, the chronicler inflicted on the cinematic establishment the perverse transmutation which the writer reserved to the marginal of society...And one finds this symbolic transgression in The Four Hundred Blows - even if, Antoine Doinel is categorically not a child criminal. Even if, Genet, likewise, distanced himself from Truffaut, accusing him of being a "vainglorious joker", preferring to stay on the other side of the barricade.

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