Tirez sur le pianist (1960)
Part comedy, part drama, part film noir, part western, Francois Truffaut's Tirez sur le pianist (Shoot The Piano Player) is a little bit of everything! It's his second feature, after The 400 Blows, and if his debut was an autobiographical story that, along with Godard's A bout de souffle, launched the French New Wave, this is a manifestation of that boundless energy and experimentation that the movie has come to symbolize. The film is both a rejection of the stuffy films of his French forefathers and a passionate homage to American B-cinema. In the mise-en-scene we find many references to film noir, as well as westerns and comedies, from the way scenes are lit and shot, to the way characters hold and use a gun.
The performances are great too. Truffaut used real life pianist Charles Aznavour as his lead, a piano virtuoso Edouard Saroyan, who, after the suicide of his wife, gives up and becomes a simple bar pianist. There he falls in love with the waitress. Meanwhile, his brothers are in trouble with some gangsters who they bilked out of their share of heist money. There are some familiar faces if you have seen other films of the era (Daniel Boulanger plays Ernest the gangster is a detective in Godard's Breathless, while Albert Remy who plays Chico, is Antoine's father in Truffaut's The 400 Blows).
Some of my favorite sequences are between the gangsters and Fido, Saroyan's little brother. They abduct the kid, but then the three of them behave like school children together, getting along marvelously, bragging about their new gadgets and toys, and arguing over who is better at what. And that may be the greatest strength of this film. It's quite eclectic and uneven at times, but it is made up of so many great moments, little scenelets and exchanges between characters. It is also just a lot of fun to watch, especially if you love cinema. Lots of little details and ideas are present, lots of imagination and innovation, as well as a very palatable sense of Truffaut's love for all things film.