With her Jewish husband, Lucas, hiding in the basement of his Parisian theatre, Marion Steiner hires Bernard Granger to head a misfit cast in her bid to mount a new production that will keep the venue afloat during the Nazi Occupation..
Budgetary constraint had mitigated against a wartime setting for François Truffaut's childhood memoir, Les Quatre Cent Coups and he had subsequently felt disinclined to make an Occupation drama following the release of Marcel Ophuls's documentary, The Sorrow and the Pity. So, he embarked on this tale of a Parisian theatre troupe in the wake of Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien, Costa-Gavras's Section Spéciale and Joseph Losey's Mr Klein and intended it to form the central segment of a `performance' trilogy comprising Day for Night and L'Agence Magic, which was left unrealised on his death in 1980.
In fact, this was much more of a backstage than a war story. Marion and Lucas's plight is clearly prompted by the defeat of 1940, as is Bernard's association with the Maquis and Nadine (Sabine Haudepin)'s fraternising with German soldiers to further her career. But anti-semitism, censorship, black marketeering and collaboration are reduced to period givens that matter as little as ideology or communality in a world centred on individualism. Many critics attacked Truffaut for painting such a naively nostalgic portrait of this shameful time, but he conceded that he relied more on recollection than research and this personal juvenility coloured the film's tone. Consequently, Truffaut rooted the action in his amateur enthusiasm for the stage - although many of the incidents were inspired by the experiences of such film folk as designer Alexandre Trauner, composer Joseph Kosma and actors Louis Jourdan and Jean-Pierre Aumont. Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard), the fascistic critic, was based on Alain Laubreaux, whom Jean Marais had once punched for mocking a Cocteau play, although there's an element of Cahiers autobiography in his bitter rejection by the very artists whose approval he craves. Designed as a showcase for Catherine Deneuve, The Last Metro swept the Césars and some suggested that its popular success lay in its rehabilitation of a contentious era without opening too many wounds. However, its secret derived more from Truffaut's adherence to Jean Renoir's humanist credo, that no matter what their actions, everyone has their reasons.
A contained period piece, with Catherine Deneuve as charming as ever...