The life and times of a femme fatale, in this black comedy directed by François Truffaut.
Stanislas Previne (Andrė Dussollier) is a sociologist. As part of his thesis on female criminals, he interviews the notorious Camille Bliss (Bernadette Lafont), in prison for murder. She tells him her life story…
Anne and Muriel was a film close to François Truffaut’s heart but unfortunately for him a commercial failure. The film he made next could hardly be more different: a fast-paced black comedy about the misadventures of a femme fatale, as told to a naïve young man who himself becomes entrapped by her. The film is based on a novel by Henry Farrell, Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me also known as, less politely, Bitch Kitty. A Gorgeous Girl Like Me (Une belle fille comme moi – released in the UK with the more colloquially Seventies title of A Gorgeous Bird Like Me) is unfortunately a misfire, loud, heavy-handed and dislikeable, with a grating central performance.
Part of this is due to the central character of Camille, who is neither sympathetic not strong enough as an antiheroine to be sufficiently interesting as such. She seems to be based on a late 60s/early 70s male idea of feminism, which associates liberation with having as much sex as possible with as many men as possible, though it’s doubtful that her many conquests are drawn to her because of her gorgeousness, more likely her availability. (And of course, Truffaut films her nude but not any of the men.) Whatever the deficiences of the character as written, Bernadette Lafont certainly doesn’t resolve them. She made her debut as the female lead in Truffaut’s short film Les mistons (more of which later) and this was her only collaboration with him since. In the meantime, she had a long and distinguished career acting for many of the major New Wave directors, especially Claude Chabrol but also Jacques Rivette, Louis Malle and later Jean Eustache, Nelly Kaplan and Claude Miller. Suffice to say this isn’t her finest hour and a half: her performance here is shrill and mannered and in places she’s openly trying to upstage her costars. Guy Marchand is amusing as a cheesy singer and André Dussollier (in his debut, as the credits tell us) plays naïve and hapless well enough.
There are some amusing sequences, such as the one where evidence clearing Camille from murder is film shot by a nine-year-old filmmaker who is reluctant to show his rushes because they aren’t edited yet. (It’s not hard to spot a Truffaut self-insert here.) Georges Delerue’s jaunty score helps keep things moving along, and Pierre-William Glenn’s camerawork is attractive. But if Anne and Muriel, if undervalued at the time, now stands as one of Truffaut’s best films, A Gorgeous Girl Like Me has to stand as one of his worst.
Fortunately, Truffaut’s next film was Day for Night (La nuit américaine), a critical and commercial high-point in his career, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film and nominated for three others, including Truffaut as Best Director. (He, along with John Cassavetes, Bob Fosse and Roman Polanski, lost to Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather Part II.) It also won the BAFTA for Best Film and Director and for Valentina Cortese as Best Supporting Actress. Although it had a UK cinema reissue in 2011, it has not so far had a British DVD or Blu-ray release. The Story of Adèle H (L’histoire d’Adèle H) was another high-point and Pocket Money (L’argent de poche, also known in English as Small Change) rather indulged Truffaut’s sentimentality concerning children. These two and the next one, The Man Who Loved Women (L’homme qui aimait les femmes) are in the United Artists catalogue and were released on British DVD by MGM in 2003. Truffaut was only an occasional actor, though he did play the lead roles in his own The Wild Child and his next film, the interesting Henry James adaptation The Green Room (La chambre verte) is not available on DVD in the UK for apparent rights reasons. Meanwhile, for Steven Spielberg, a great admirer of his work, he performed his best-known acting role, as Lacombe in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. After The Green Room, he returned to Antoine Doinel for a final time in Love on the Run (L’amour en fuite), which will be the next in this series of Truffaut releases.
A Gorgeous Girl Like Me is chronologically the eighth in a series of twelve Truffaut films reissued by Artificial Eye on DVD and Blu-ray. It was a checkdisc of the former which was supplied for review: the disc is dual-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. Comments below and affiliate links above refer to the DVD edition. For affiliate links for the Blu-ray, go here.
The disc is in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which on the DVD is anamorphically enhanced, i.e. with black bars pillarboxing the picture into 1.78:1. I am definitely unconvinced that 4:3 is the correct ratio. Firstly, Academy Ratio had been abandoned in commercial cinemas for some seventeen or eighteen years in France by the time this film was made. While it is true that some French directors from the New Wave were making films in 35mm Academy at the time and later (Rohmer and Godard especially), Truffaut was not one of him, and his films were aimed at commercial audiences even if they didn’t always reach them. Secondly, Academy is not the ratio of any of Truffaut’s other features, and more specifically not those photographed by Pierre-William Glenn: Pocket Money is 1.66:1, which is also the ratio of all nine of the features photographed by Nestor Almendros.(Glenn also photographed Day for Night, but I have only seen that on television so can’t make a comment on its ratio, except to say that it’s 1.66:1 according to the IMDB.) With this DVD, if you can zoom this image to a ratio approximating 1.66:1, I would suggest you do so, as that’s what I did with no untoward results. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with the transfer that I could see: sharp, colourful with good blacks and natural-looking grain.
The sound is the original mono, in French with optional English subtitles. No complaints here: it’s clear and well-balanced and Delerue’s score comes over well.
Of the twelve Truffaut films reissued by Artificial Eye, eleven had been originally released on DVD in 2002 by MK2 in France. A Gorgeous Girl Like Me is the exception, so there is no introduction by Serge Toubiana and no commentary moderated by him. The only extra specific to the present film is the trailer (1:56). Given the aspect ratio issues mentioned above, it’s galling that the trailer is actually in 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced, but on closer examination, it’s a 4:3 image stretched laterally into the wider ratio. The soundtrack is further evidence that singing was not one of Lafont’s greatest talents.
The other extra is the short film Les mistons (The Mischief-Makers) (17:30), which Truffaut made in 1957. That was his second short: the first, Une visite, shot in 1955 with Jacques Rivette behind the camera, was disregarded by Truffaut and is apparently now lost. Les mistons was based on a novella, Virginales, by Maurice Pons. (The subtitles say “novel”, but the word in the credits is “nouvelle”: a novel would be a “roman”.) This had previously appeared on DVD as an extra on releases of The Four Hundred Blows, which it preceded chronologically. Its presence on this disc is explained by the fact that it also stars Bernadette Lafont, who was at the time married to her costar, actor Gėrard Blain. They play a pair of young lovers spied on by a gang of young boys, the “mistons” of the title. Shot in black and white 16mm on a tiny budget (anamorphic 1.33:1 on this DVD, and this time that ratio is correct), Les mistons is a very confident piece of work. It’s clear the affinity that Truffaut had with children: he far more enjoyed filming them, documentary-style, than the scenes of the tragic love story involving Blain and Lafont. Blain was apparently uncomfortable with the attention his wife, in her film debut and clearly a star in the making, was getting, and they were divorced two years later. As this short had previously appeared on an MK2 DVD, Serge Toubiana is on hand to provide a short introduction (1:40) and a commentary in which he talks to the film’s camera assistant and later Truffaut scriptwriter Claude de Givray about the making of the film.
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum