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Jean-Pierre Léaud: The New Wave and After

January 18, 2008 - February 29, 2008

Masculine Feminine, February 14

If the French New Wave has a face, it might be the beaky, piercing-eyed visage of Jean-Pierre Léaud. In 1959, at age fifteen, Léaud made his debut as Antoine Doinel in François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows; over the next two decades, he would play alter ego not only to Truffaut, but to a generation that grew up (or failed to) in parallel with him. For Jean-Luc Godard, he was one of the “children of Marx and Coca-Cola” in films like Masculine Feminine (1966) and La Chinoise (1967). Later, Léaud worked with Jacques Rivette in the epic Out 1 (1972) and stalked through the wreckage of the late-sixties dream in Jean Eustache’s anti-epic The Mother and the Whore (1973), a film and a performance that obliterate sentimentality. The effect of all these collaborations is cumulative: when Léaud appears in a film by Aki Kaurismäki or Olivier Assayas, his history appears with him.

“Léaud is an anti-documentary actor,” Truffaut said. “He has only to say ‘good morning’ and we find ourselves tipping over into fiction.” Or, in Godardian terms, a Léaud film is Léaud, twenty-four frames per second. Not one to disappear into a role, Léaud brings a defining set of gestures to each performance; Manny Farber wrote, “Léaud’s acting trademark is a passionate decision that peaks his frenzied exasperation, physical compulsiveness.” Declaiming his lines with solemn clarity or demented enthusiasm, Léaud can be compelling or brilliantly comic, sometimes strange, always iconic.

Juliet Clark

Friday, January 18, 2008
7:00 p.m. The 400 Blows
Introduced by Laura Truffaut. A 15-year-old Léaud made his debut as François Truffaut’s alter ego Antoine Doinel in the quintessential coming-of-age film, a lyrical but unsentimental portrait of adolescence and of Paris.

Friday, January 18, 2008
9:10 p.m. La Chinoise
A new print of Godard’s 1967 Pop-agitprop portrait of revolutionary youth, including an ardent Léaud. “Feels like a trial run for the May 1968 revolution. See it by any means necessary!”—Time Out N.Y. Repeated on Wednesday, January 23.

Saturday, January 19, 2008
6:30 p.m. Stolen Kisses
Léaud as Truffaut’s quintessential dreamer Antoine Doinel, flitting through 1968 Paris in search of love and livelihood. With short Antoine and Colette.

Saturday, January 19, 2008
6:30 p.m. Stolen Kisses

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
6:30 p.m. La Chinoise
See Friday, January 18.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
8:30 p.m. Bed and Board
In this bittersweet fourth installment in Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel saga, Léaud’s character endures the travails of young married life.

Friday, January 25, 2008
7:00 p.m. Love on the Run
In 1979, Truffaut and Léaud return for a final look at Antoine Doinel, now thirty-something, but perennially adolescent.

Friday, January 25, 2008
9:00 p.m. Day for Night
Léaud joins an ensemble cast for a behind-the-scenes romantic comedy in which the love interest is cinema itself. “Truffaut’s droll and generous celebration of filmmaking remains an enchanting experience.”—N.Y. Times

Thursday, January 31, 2008
6:30 p.m. Two English Girls
Léaud is a French writer entangled with two English sisters at the turn of the 20th century. “One of Truffaut’s most tantalizing romances. . . . Simultaneously introspective and passionate.”—Time Out. From a story by the author of Jules and Jim.

Friday, February 8, 2008
7:00 p.m. The Mother and the Whore
Léaud gives perhaps his greatest performance as a castaway from the sixties and the sexual revolution, waffling between two women, in Jean Eustache’s chronicle of disenchantment in post-1968 Paris.

Thursday, February 14, 2008
8:50 p.m. Masculine Feminine
Léaud stars as one of Godard’s “children of Marx and Coca-Cola”—the young people of Paris in 1965, choosing between la tendresse and politics.

Friday, February 15, 2008
7:00 p.m. Weekend
“Godard’s vision of bourgeois cataclysm. . . . A savage Swiftian satire, it traces a new Gulliver’s travels through the collapsing consumer society as a married couple set out for a weekend jaunt.”—Time Out. Léaud has a revolutionary cameo.

Sunday, February 17, 2008
1:00 p.m. Out 1: Spectre
The 240-minute “short” version of Jacques Rivette’s legendary epic, with Léaud as a self-styled detective.

Friday, February 29, 2008
7:00 p.m. La vie de Bohème
Aki Kaurismäki’s update of Henri Murger’s novel is “a fine, deceptively querulous comedy that mocks the conventions of art and romantic love while . . . exalting them as the only means of salvation.”—N.Y. Times. Léaud puts in a brief but pivotal appearance.

Friday, February 29, 2008
9:00 p.m. Irma Vep
Olivier Assayas casts Hong Kong icon Maggie Cheung as an actress suffering through ego battles and other disasters on a French indie film shoot, with a classically irascible Léaud as director.

Series curated by Susan Oxtoby.

PFA wishes to thank the following individuals and institutions for their assistance with this series: Christophe Musitelli, French Consulate San Francisco; Delphine Selles, French Embassy New York; Laura Truffaut; Brian Belovarac, Janus Films; Suzanne Fedak, Koch Lorber Films; Eric Di Bernardo, Rialto Pictures; Gary Palmucci, Kino International; Jonathan Howell, New Yorker Films; Clemence Taillandier, Zeitgeist Films; Marilee Womack, Warner Bros.; Danielle Rosencranz, Sunshine Films; and Brad Deane, Cinematheque Ontario.