Despite considering myself somewhat knowledgeable when it comes to the world of film, I just haven’t seen much Francois Truffaut. Sure, I saw 400 BLOWS in film school, ran accidentally into his FAHRENHEIT 451 a year ago, and I’ve seen bits from some of his other work. I’ve owned DAY FOR NIGHT for close to a decade and haven’t watched it yet. Anyway, TCM had a little marathon of his work recently, so I grabbed a few titles. SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER was Truffaut’s follow-up to THE 400 BLOWS, making it his second feature film.


I watched TIREZ SUR LE PIANISTE (SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER) (1960) on 7.31.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

Charlie (Charles Aznavour) is a lowly piano player in a dim bar. He used to be Edouard Saroyan, a famous concert pianist. Something has happened to remove him from that life, and to live anonymously as a dour barman. He likes women, but lacks the desire or ability to close (except for his convenient prostitute friend).

When his brother comes running into his bar being chased by a couple of gangsters, Charlie is unwittingly thrown into a life on the run. Well, maybe run isn’t the right word. For someone who knows that a couple of violent gangsters have his address and want to kidnap him for his brothers’ sins, Charlie sure is lackadaisical about it all. This would be a flaw in a lesser movie, but Truffaut is a master of tone and rhythm. The seemingly absurd decisions made in this movie work perfectly within the context of the reality created.

This is a film made by a man who knows the language of film. He references Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and he helps lead the way in the budding French New Wave. Truffaut has said he made this movie for people who like movies. Partly because of that, this is a movie every critic is now supposed to like. And, sure, I do think this is some solid filmmaking. But it has some issues as well. The ending is a bit of a mess, with the villains suddenly becoming cold men rather than bumbling and semi-likable bumblers. Some of the lighting in the opening scene has that non-lit avant-garde quality that falls into unwatchable for several seconds at a time.  The lead, frankly, is unlikable and neither redeems himself nor has seemed to learn anything from the beginning of the movie until the end, except to detach himself more. This last is certainly a thematic point, and not necessarily a knock on the film, but it stands in odd juxtaposition against the light thematic trail of the entire movie which precedes it.

But, not to sound like I’m playing both sides, this is still a great film. There is so much playfulness throughout this film. There is a light tone, a carefree nature, which belies the seriousness the plot might otherwise have. There is a momentary cutaway to a woman having a heart attack after a gangster says, and I’m paraphrasing since it is French anyway, “May my mother drop dead if I’m lying.” That sort of a flippant moment is so poorly handled in amateur copycat work. Here, because of the nature of the previous hour of the film, it works brilliantly. Truffaut has earned this little flourish.

The most interesting thematic element of this film, for me, is that noone seems to be good at what they do. The gangsters mess up and let people get away several times. The criminal brothers screw up the job to cause the mess in the first place. The prostitute doesn’t charge Charlie to sleep with her, and then lets the bad guy kidnap a kid when she mistakes him for a trick. The bar owner sells out his employees. The waitress hates her boss. Charlie has given up as a pianist and chooses to play in mediocrity. The only person who did their ‘job’ well was Charlie’s wife, and we learn what happens to her for doing the best she can for Charlie. Nobody does anything to the best it can be done, there are no ideals here. It’s a fascinating look at human fallacy, at human ineptitude.

And through all of that, it has true heart (even if not all of its characters do).  As I write, I gain appreciation for the movie. As I write I find myself wanting to revisit it. And that, at least, puts it ahead of so many films of modern times.



The camerawork here is amazing. So many wonderful long takes, so many beautiful cinematic angles. Truffaut is considered a master for a reason.



~ by johnlink00 on August 1, 2013.

One Response to “johnlink ranks TIREZ SUR LE PIANISTE (SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER) (1960)”

  1. Shoot the Piano Player, eh? I read a story once about a hit man that shoots a piano player. Good story, as I recall…

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