A Truffaut Notebook by Sam Solecki (review)
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Reviewed by
Sam Solecki. A Truffaut Notebook. McGill-Queen's University Press. xii, 340. $34.95

In literary studies, there is a vibrant tradition of the Bibliomemoir, books that document a reader's personal and extended engagement with an author and his or her works. Here, Sam Solecki offers us his Cinememoir of François Truffaut, a "disorderly … mongrel notebook" that uses Truffaut's life, films, criticism, and other bits of cultural flotsam to fashion a double portrait of the director and this one particular spectator. Solecki's book is an exercise in cinematic consolation in which he watches and re-watches Truffaut's films, using art as a path to understanding both Truffaut and himself in the wake of a significant romantic breakup. Solecki plays multiple roles in this analytic relationship: he is analysand and scribe, with Truffaut (a name encompassing both the individual director and his many aesthetic achievements) as an indirect analyst, the provocateur and sympathizer who elicits tears and provides comfort. The idiosyncratic result is entertaining and illuminating moment by moment, without necessarily transforming what the reader might already think of Truffaut or his films in any lasting way.

The book's structure follows the chronology of Truffaut's career, with snippets of his letters, quotations from interviews, production lore, and of course, scenes from the films themselves forming self-contained and often very short standalone fragments. Solecki mixes these ingredients in ways that offer something new, if fleeting, as a richer context for films many of us already know well. Solecki's consideration of Truffaut's painful attempts to mend his relationship with his parents after the release of The 400 Blows is one example. Another is a brief discussion of screenplays for films Truffaut didn't make (Bonnie and Clyde is the outstanding example) that were eventually made, in one form or another, by others.

With the timeline of Truffaut's filmmaking life as exoskeleton, each segment of this book is free to eddy and swirl around contingencies of spectatorship, memory, and allusion. Chapters circle playfully around details of viewer fascination (extending to the design of the poster for The Bride Wore Black) or recount personal moments connected to Truffaut's film universe, such as the author's meeting Jeanne Moreau in Venice in the 1990s. That meeting, Solecki writes, "brought me closer to Truffaut and created a sense of aura within the everydayness of my life." Trying to get close to an artist through immersion in his creations is the irresistible but impossible project of this book, and one of the pleasures of its allusive method is the way that Truffaut evades all of Solecki's attempts to consolidate his auteur essence into something knowable.

It is Solecki's life in art that gives him an immense range of texts upon which to light briefly and tellingly as he looks to one media to illuminate [End Page 241] the sources and implications of another. In one section of this book, Solecki traces a scene in Stolen Kisses back through Proust's letters, and hazards that Truffaut has read them. In others, he divines hints and correspondences, echoes and homologies, to and from music, painting, literature, and Truffaut's films. Nor are his references only to the exalted: the Eurythmics, The Blob, and drummer Gene Krupa make appearances. The effect is sometimes delicate and revelatory but can sometimes strike the reader as showy and compensatory. The trove of cultural references can get in the way of direct communion with Truffaut's films and their effect on Solecki, becoming displays of aesthetic capital that distract us from rather than focus us on the filmmaker and his effects. An example occurs near the end of the book when, in less than two full pages, Solecki name-checks Balzac, Stendhal, Eric Rohmer, Rita Hayworth, and Paolo Sorrentino, without giving us anything either playfully or thoughtfully substantive about their coincidental grouping.

Unlike these intellectual tokens, both Elle, Solecki's "determined diarist," and Godard, Truffaut's filmmaking frenemy, are woven thoroughly and inextricably into the book. Godard appears as Truffaut's formalist colleague whose work Solecki can't stop writing about, even though he dislikes it...


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