TRUFFAUT IN ZAGREB
In the 1970s TV Zagreb started what may have been the best series of TV shows in its history. The title of this series was “3, 2, 1...kreni!“ and it systematically presented the greatest names of international film. Its creator, Nenad Pata, managed to bring to Zagreb such great personages as Orson Welles, Claude Chabrol, Andzej Wayda, Werner Herzog, Cathetrine Deneuve and many others.
Great author of the French New Wave, Francois Truffaut, quickly refused the invitation from the authors of “3, 2, 1...kreni!“ , with the explanation that he was sorry but that he is reluctant to visit places where his films were not welcome - meaning behind the Iron Curtain. However, Truffaut changed his mind as soon as he received the list of twenty of his films that had been shown in the former Yugoslavia. As a film critic, I had the honor to welcome the man that we in Zagreb knew everything about, to talk to him on the TV show and to be by his side during his stay in Zagreb should he need anything.
Since my wife Vesna’s friend, Dada, worked at the airport’s customs, were able to welcome the author of, among other films The 400 Blows, in the spirit of film illusionism. The man, who might have been scared that no one would even welcome him at the airport, was greeted by well-instructed airport clerks. They welcomed him as if he were none other than the famous Brigitte Bardot! Policemen and customs officers, as if it were self-explanatory, greeted him warmly with “Monsieur Truffaut“!
He did not even have time to recover from this surprise and already at the airport exit there emerged photographers who blinded him with flashes and TV and radio journalists bombarded him with well-prepared sets of questions... A bit later, Nenad Pata and I put Truffaut in a luxurious car with a driver and took him, according to a previously arranged protocol, to dinner outside of town. In the car, while we were struggling to drive through the poorly-lit Croatian metropolis, we had a scanty conversation about general things but soon, when we had finally passed the city and become surrounded only by great darkness here and there interrupted by car lights, our guest wrapped himself with impermeable silence and “hung” tight from a handle above his head. In those uncertain moments, it must have occurred to him that this visit to an unknown town in the Balkans was not such a great idea…
When we arrived at the restaurant there awaited us an elite group of young film writers (among others Vladimir Vuković, Ante Peterlić, Zoran Tadić, Branko Ivanda) eager to have a lively discussion with the famous film author that they knew everything about. However, the respectable Parisian, to everyone’s great surprise, proved to be very reserved, in fact quite unwilling to discuss anything. To my question whether his production company had any value, he briefly answered that La carosse was merely a small craft business. When I showed him several questions that I had intended to ask him on the TV show he noticeably perked up. For drink he only took a glass of water and politely refused any dinner…
Naturally, at that moment, we could not help ourselves and remembered another dear guest from the French metropolis, adored by the “gang from café bar Corso“ - the amicable bourgeois and one of the great authors of French film, Claude Chabrol, a person who with his warmth and open hedonism enchanted film lovers in Zagreb. In the above mentioned restaurant Chabrol indulged himself in lavish food and drinks and temperamentally debated on different topics. When Peterlić quietly mumbled to Vuković „that dude from Paris is a really stand up guy“, Chabrol promptly reacted and asked: “What is a dude?“ (of course with the typical French accent on the second syllable).
Upon Chabrol’s return to Paris he was attacked by the French film critics who, to put it mildly, did not much care for his latest film and his answer to them reached Zagreb immediately.Resentful because of much bad criticism that his film received, Chabrol said at a press conference that film critics should visit Zagreb to learn how to better understand films.
During his television interview, Truffaut was completely different; he was very eloquent, eager to lucidly explain film titles from his opus as well as his poetics. In the brief pause between shooting he wished to speak to the director; he politely asked him to remove the giant standing ashtray from the set because it, in comparison to the speakers, dominated the studio.
That same night, there was a screening of Truffaut’s film The Wild Boy in the popular film theatre RS Moša Pijade, (which was also organized by Pata), and on that occasion more young people showed up than the theatre could hold. It was obvious that the young audience accepted this story, which celebrated civilization instead of then common glorification of nature, more than well. After the screening, Truffaut, quite openly in a great mood, got a standing ovation after his statement that when he had waited for his plane in Paris he had prayed that the fog would prevent his plane from flying and now in Zagreb, he begged the fog to postpone his flight back to Paris!
Before leaving Zagreb, Truffaut gave me Bazin’s monography about Jean Renoir, and my wife, Vesna, the book with the screenplay for Američke noći and the script book for the film Fahrenheit 451. In return, we gave him a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons performed by the Zagreb Soloists. Only after his return to Paris did we find out that a grave illness, which was finally the cause of his death, influenced his restrained behavior during his visit to Zagreb. Witnesses claim that immediately before passing away, on his face there appeared a placid expression of relief.
I’ll finish this article with one of Truffaut’s more optimistic statements; on one occasion he stated that film was invented to praise female beauty. And he certainly praised it - in his films as well as in life. From the British documentary French Beauty (shown at the International Festival of Documentary Films in Zagreb) we found out that Truffaut had had intimate emotions of varying degrees of intensity towards each of his leading actresses. (Petar Krelja)