Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Last Metro (1980)

The Last Metro is a wonderful French film made in the year 1980, starring Gerard Depardieu (in a relatively early role) and Catherine Deneuve (in a relatively late role).

The story is set during WW2 in Nazi occupied France, and progresses from just before the occupation of the free-zone, to beyond the end of the war. Marion Steiner is now running a theater previously run by her Jewish husband, who is in hiding. We later find out he is hiding in the basement, and she visits him nightly. He must stay there, concealed from the Germans for as long as it takes. Then Bernard Granger comes for an audition at the theater, and the story really gets moving. The pacing of the story is very well played, as little bits of information and revelations of character are revealed only when absolutely necessary; just as the audience is beginning to wonder what next?

That's the base of the story. It's great though, because it's about so many other things and has some very political themes, but it doesn't choke us with them. They are very much the undertone of the film. It's about small communities operating under difficult conditions. It's about the theater, and the community aspect of the theater, struggling to continue under occupation, in extreme circumstances (a new female Director/actress, also attempting to learn the financial side of things). Then, it's about love and friendships; how relationships are shaped during wartime. How some people take advantage of the difficult situation, even if it means going against their fellow citizens.

All of the characters have depth; fears, desires, motives. Even the supporting actors: the stage-hand, I forget his name, is insecure about his physical attributes (understandably), and lies to those he's worked with for years, to appear more succesful in love. Germaine, the supporting acrtress in their play, has an unbeatable urge to become a film and stage star, and seems willing to work harder than anybody else to succeed in that. The main characters are developed extremely well too.

The only controversy for me, personally, is the film's ending. It is very much open to interpretation. It's not that I have anything against open-ended movies, it's just that this particular movie seems to call for something more conclusive. We've come so far with these characters, and invested so much time in hoping that her Jewish Husband will live through the occupation, that we need to know who she decides to stay with. The final scene depicts Marion, her Husband, and her lead actor/lover, up on stage together. At first, it is just Marion and Bernard on the stage, enjoying the applause of the audience. Then, Lucas (the Husband) is brought up from his directors seat in the shadows, and she stands on the end, holding Bernards hand. She then makes it a point, to move between them, and smiles at them both, happily stuck in the middle. It is absolutely unclear which man she has chosen.

The only clue, is in the minutes preceeding the scene above. In their latest play, Marion and Bernard are again opposite each other. Barnard is a war casualty, and she is his lover or girlfriend. She visits him in the hospital, kisses him passionately, and then the play ends. It's either a nod to their new relationship status, or a hint that their relationship is still strictly professional.

Despite the unconventional ending, The Last Metro is a beautiful film. It has a setting which offers the plot extended meaning, and well developed characters. It's a celebration of the enduring nature of the theater as a form of art and entertainment. I would watch it again if the chance was offered, and I recommend it to anyone reading this blog. It's now one of my favourites from Director/Writer Francois Traffaut.

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