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The Last Metro
Remind Me
,The Last Metro

The Last Metro

The Last Métro (1980, French title: Le Dernier Métro) was director François Truffaut's long-held desire to make a film set during the Occupation of France during World War II, a place he had known well as a child. The film was written with Suzanne Schiffman and Jean-Claude Grumberg, and starred Catherine Deneuve as Marion, the actress/wife of Jewish theater director Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent). To escape the Nazis, Steiner is forced to go into hiding in the theater's cellar, where he secretly listens to the rehearsals of his new play and relays instructions to the assistant director through Marion. In preparation, Truffaut and Schiffman had read many memoirs of entertainment figures who had lived during the Occupation, such as Ginette Leclerc and Jean Marais. In remembering that the great French actor/director Louis Jouvet had left France for South America when the Germans invaded France, Truffaut asked himself, "[W]hat would have happened if, for the love of a woman, a Jewish director had pretended to flee France but had remained hidden in the cellar of his theater throughout the war. Invented as it was, the idea was not entirely improbable, because the musician [Joseph] Kosma and the designer Trauner had known that situation, working clandestinely under false names for the films of Marcel Carné, for example....I had read that during the war fifteen or more theaters in Paris were run by women, actresses or former actresses. My heroine therefore would be a 'directress' and I immediately thought of Catherine Deneuve, a thrilling actress I had not used to the best of her possibilities in Mississippi Mermaid (1969)."

Gérard Depardieu plays Deneuve's co-star in Steiner's play and the sexual tension between them adds to Deneuve's already complicated life. The Last Métro was the first time Truffaut had worked with Depardieu, the most popular actor in French cinema. Although he had been interested in working with him as far back as 1968, Depardieu, who was still in drama school, felt he wasn't ready to work with a director of Truffaut's level. By the time he was approached to star in The Last Métro, Depardieu's opinion of Truffaut's films had soured. He thought Truffaut had become bourgeois and had to be convinced to take the role by several people, including actress Jeanne Moreau, who had worked with Truffaut in Jules et Jim (1962) and The Bride Wore Black (1968). "She told me François was someone extraordinary, and that he had a special energy and poetry. From what Jeanne Moreau said, you could feel all the romanticism and everything else which had brought the New Wave to French cinema. And something more: the love François had for Hitchcock and some of the great American directors. I met a man with a regard that was extremely lively and perceptive. Only great artists have a regard like that; it was sharp but on the lookout for everything." In explaining his role, Truffaut told Depardieu, "Because this is a film about the Occupation, this must be a secret film. And because you will be a hero of the Resistance, you have to keep everything to yourself. We have to do everything to put ourselves back into the context of the Occupation."

Depardieu's view of Truffaut altered as filming progressed, "François revealed himself to be the opposite of everything I had imagined. I had imagined him to be a petit bourgeois. Now he revealed himself to be a great adventurer, with crazy love affairs and women everywhere. At the same time, though, he was extremely discreet. On the set he used the formal vous form with everyone, his women included." As author Paul Chutkow explained, "By 'his women', Gérard was referring to Truffaut's many girlfriends, past and present, on the set. The director used vous with everyone except Gérard; between them it was always the more informal tu. As usual, on the set, Gérard peppered his conversation with bawdy tales, and his antics often bordered on the piggish. But Truffaut loved Gérard's peasant earthiness, it provided comic relief inside the sealed world of the set, and such behavior was perfectly in keeping with the way Truffaut had scripted the role of Granger. Instinctively, Gérard was merging with his role, and he was generating the kind of chemistry Truffaut wanted to capture on film." Catherine Deneuve also witnessed this on the set, "I found that Gérard was very different in The Last Métro from the way he had been in almost every film up to then. When he is impressed by a director, Gérard becomes an actor of incredible sweetness and docility. He's very animal, Gérard. If a director puts him in a position of distrust or fear, he pulls back. With François, he was receiving admiration and reassurance, and so he really let himself go. He entered totally into the character." Truffaut also got into the character of Lucas Steiner as he directed the climactic love scene between Deneuve and Depardieu. While the part was played onscreen by Heinz Bennent, Truffaut directed the scene the same way the character of Steiner directed his play. Steiner, hiding in the theater's cellar, could not see his actors; only hear them through a grate. Deneuve later explained, "François did not want to see us. He had an audio feed sent into an adjoining room, and he followed us through a set of headphones. He directed the entire scene only by listening to our voices; he could not bring himself to watch us in person. It was very strange."

Also in the cast of The Last Métro were Truffaut's writing partner, Jean-Louis Richard (playing Daxiat). Although Richard had been a leading man on the stage with Louis Jouvet, this would be his first film appearance. Veteran actress Paulette Dubost, who had co-starred in Jean Renoir's classic La Regle du Jeu (1939), played Marion's dresser Germaine Fabre. Dubost turned 100 years old on October 8, 2010, which she celebrated by dancing on French television.

Truffaut had trouble with scenes shot in the Paris Métro and he wrote a letter to director Georges Franju asking for help. "To justify the title [of The Last Métro] and articulate the narrative in two or three places, I filmed a few shots of the Métro, but I cannot use any of them, as they are hopelessly contemporary: neon lighting, stations which have been redesigned and too many sources of light. I viewed a great deal of footage in the Métro film library, but the same problems presented themselves. I have, however, retained a very vivid memory of your film La Première Nuit [1958] and have just seen it again with undiminished admiration. During the first ten minutes I noted three or four shots - less than thirty seconds in all - which would do perfectly if you were to allow me to use them. I am speaking, naturally, of shots full of anonymous passengers in which it is impossible to distinguish your two little protagonists, and of a lateral pan in which a train passes very quickly, like a streak of light. Your producer, Anatole Dauman, has very kindly given me his permission, but it's obviously yours which matters to me and, concerning as it does the rather delicate question of unacknowledged quotation, I would perfectly understand if you preferred to refuse: your film is a cinematic poem, not a documentary, you are not a director of stock shots but an artist."

Franju gave his permission and Truffaut wrote to Dauman, "I would like to duplicate between one minute thirty and two minutes of the internegative, corresponding to the threads that we would place in the print you have been kind enough to lend us. It's time now for me to express my gratitude, since, thanks to you, there is one criticism that no one will be able to make: 'But why the devil did they call it Le Dernier Métro?'"

According to author David Nicholls, The Last Métro had been an expensive film for Truffaut's Le Films du Carrosse - costing nearly twice his usual budget; and, at 14 weeks, was one of the longest shoots of his career. Complications arose just before production began, when the German co-producers suddenly pulled out of the project, leaving Gerard Lebovici to scramble to get financing from Gaumont (who distributed the film in France), SFP (Société Française de Production) and TF1 (the French television network). Luckily, the film was a smash hit and Truffaut's most successful. It won ten Césars (the French Oscars®) including best film, director, screenplay, actor and actress. It was also nominated for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award, but lost to Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (1980).

Three years after the film was released, Truffaut summed up The Last Métro in an article in L'Avant-Scène Cinéma, "I think that my having filled out the screenplay with details that had struck me in my childhood gave the film an originality of vision it wouldn't have had it if had been conceived by someone older (who would have experienced the Occupation as an adult) or younger (who would have been born during the war or afterward). To illustrate this perfectly obvious truism by an example, I will recall that only children observe a funeral 'objectively' and, with a well-dissimulated interest, take note of what does not strike adults as essential: the mourning bands, the silvery letters on the wreaths, the hats, veils, black stockings, Sunday clothes. There you have what The Last Métro probably is: the theater and the Occupation seen by a child."

Producer: François Truffaut (uncredited)
Director: François Truffaut
Screenplay: François Truffaut, Suzanne Schiffman (scenario and dialogue); Jean-Claude Grumberg (dialogue)
Cinematography: Nestor Almendros
Music: Georges Delerue
Film Editing: Martine Barraqué
Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Marion Steiner), Gérard Depardieu (Bernard Granger), Jean Poiret (Jean-Loup Cottins), Andréa Ferréol (Arlette Guillaume), Paulette Dubost (Germaine Fabre), Jean-Louis Richard (Daxiat), Maurice Risch (Raymond Boursier), Sabine Haudepin (Nadine Marsac), Heinz Bennent (Lucas Steiner), Christian Baltauss (Bernard's Replacement).
C-132m. Letterboxed.

by Lorraine LoBianco

Chutkow, Paul Depardieu: A Biography
Nicholls, David François Truffaut
Truffaut, François François Truffaut - Letters , edited by Gilles Jacob and Claude de Givray
Truffaut, François, "Pourquoi et Comment Le Dernier Métro" L'Avant- Scène Cinéma Mar 84
Truffaut, François Truffaut by Truffaut edited by Dominique Rabourdin