Confidentially Yours

Francois Truffaut’s Confidentially Yours would like to be a good bottle of champagne: giddy, nutty and dry. But Truffaut may have left the cork out of the bottle too long.

He’s been devoting his time to dark, serious movies lately—such as the little-seen The Green Room and The Woman Next Door—and perhaps he’s forgotten how to create his special kind of magic.

Not that Truffaut has ever been merely bubbly; but even in primarily dramatic movies such as Jules and Jim and Day for Night, he conveys a wonderful sense of the joys of life and the movies, although those joys sometimes turn out to be fleeting.

Confidentially Yours self-consciously tries to recapture some of the magic; it’s a knockabout whodunit, with lots of clever twists and turns and a pair of engaging performances from Fanny Ardant and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

It’s being pushed as a kind of homage to the American film noir genre that Truffaut loved so much when he was a young film critic. Actually, this movie doesn’t bear much resemblance to the feverish fatalism of film noir; it’s much more of a lark. And Truffaut has always been too loose-limbed a director to really recreate an American style, which he tries to do periodically. He’s much more successful on his own idiosyncratic turf.

Anyway, Trintignant plays a businessman who is accused of murder. The evidence is persuasive: First his wife’s lover is found shot to death; then just a few hours later, Trintignant’s wife is herself the victim of the killer.

We can’t be absolutely sure that Trintignant is not guilty; that’s part of the tease. So the focus shifts to his feisty secretary (Ardant), who determinedly sets out to find the murderer herself—while the boss hides out in the rear of his realty office.

Misadventures ensue as Ardant somehow bumbles her way to the solution. Confidentially Yours is something of a showcase for the leggy Ardant, who is Truffaut’s current discovery. She gets to go undercover, crack wise, and generally handle herself as a Rosalind Russell-style girl Friday, whose combative relationship with her boss may be hiding more affectionate feelings.

She proves more resourceful than the local police—who aren’t amused when she keeps turning up at the scenes of murders.

If the police are not amused, the viewer may be, as Truffaut alternates the detective work with whimsical interludes. It’s all sort of cute and predictable, and it’s enjoyable as a cat-and-mouse exercise, if a rather flat one.

But Truffaut seems to be trying a bit too hard to make up for his recent moody work; as though he were nudging the audience and saying, “See? I can still be charming.” There were times when I had the feeling we were being clobbered over the head with light-heartedness. And that isn’t a good feeling.

First published in the Herald, January 26, 1984

Truffaut did not survive the year, and this was his last film, although nobody knew that at the time. I have never watched it again. If it’s not one of his best films—and his best films are among the best anybody ever made—at least it stands as a tribute to a woman, and a tribute to movies, which are two things Truffaut knew something about. I think I know what I mean by “loose-limbed” style, even if I don’t express it particularly well in the space of a newspaper review. Truffaut was rigorous, but even when he would do a Hitchcock or a science-fiction picture (or a film noir, as in Mississippi Mermaid), the results didn’t really resemble the work of his models, but they did look like Truffaut movies.

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