The Last Metro (1980)
In occupied Paris, an actress married to a Jewish theater owner must keep him hidden from the Nazis while doing both of their jobs.
20th Century, 1940s France, Paris.
- Germany occupied France on June 14, 1940. On August 25, 1944, General Charles de Gaulle delivered his historic speech: “Paris is free.” This marked the end of Nazi Germany’s 4-year occupation of the French capital.
- Gestapo – Secret State Police of the Third Reich 1933-1945. It became a symbol of Nazism – the terror of fascism.
- Collaborationism – voluntary cooperation with the enemy (occupiers), directed against one’s own country. There are often two forms of collaborationism – forced and conscious. The term acquired a negative connotation during World War II, in France. Collaborators were those who collaborated with the Nazis in the occupied territories of Nazi Germany in Europe in 1939-1945.
- François Truffaut’s “Last Metro” is a 1942 film about the Nazi occupation of Paris, but you will not find war here, it is a behind-the-scenes film and another critique of the Nazi regime. According to Truffaut, he fulfilled a long-held dream and created a film on the backstage of the theater, all this reflected during the Nazi occupation.
- The director started looking for the actors/actresses for “The Last Metro” in 1979, it is said that the role was created especially for Catherine Deneuve. Gerard Depardieu did not want to participate in the film at the initial stage, but finally changed his mind.
- The title of the film “The Last Metro” is related to the life of occupied Paris in the 1940s. The audience attended the performances in the theater until midnight, hoping to get the last subway (train).
- In the film, a collaborationist journalist from the publication “le suis partout” is a prototype of a real person. The incident of Gerard Depardieu’s character and journalist during a dinner at a restaurant in 1940s Paris was really played out. Actor Jean Marais has not forgiven collaborationist journalist for insulting director Jean Cocteau.
- The film depicts the Paris of 1940s, what is the attitude of the locals towards the German occupiers? In which part of the film is all this revealed?
- World War II became a total misery in every city in Europe. The same was in Paris, life was gradually getting harder, but Parisians were still going to the theater. One evening, instead of hiding at a subway station, Parisians stayed in the central square and watched English pilots in the Paris sky. What do you think this scene means?
- Locked up in the basement of the theater, Lucas Steiner returns to the live after 813 days. What is the relationship between him and Catherine Deneuve’s character?
- Marion’s “main enemy” is a collaborationist journalist from the newspaper “le suis partout” (“I am everywhere”), describe how and in what form the character of Catherine Deneuve manages to escape.
- Marion Steiner has to choose between two men, she no longer loves her husband, but does not betray him at the beginning of the film. Real dramas start when Deneuve’s and Depardieu’s characters have a conflict behind the scenes, but have to play lovers on stage! In what artistic ways does the director achieve this effect?
- How much is the 1940s Paris reconstructed in The Last Metro? While the film takes place indoors on the theater stage, behind the scenes and in the basement, does it give the audience a full picture of the occupied Paris of that times?
- In your opinion, what was the main goal of the director when he was making this film?
Write about this film
Given the issues raised by the epoch-making contexts and the subsequent discussion of the film, when writing about the film, focus on the title of the film — The Last Metro. Spectators attended the performances until midnight, hoping to catch the last subway. Cultural life in Paris did not stop even during the occupation. What does this fact mean, what form does it take in the film. Focus on the main characters. For Truffaut, the theater is a kind of symbol of Paris, of cultural life. The film is about the French past, but about a past that offers a visualization of resistance and collaborationism, courage and cowardice, spiritual endurance and flattery. When writing a review, try not to just talk about the story of the film and convey your subjective attitude towards the director, characters and themes.
François Truffaut is one of the founders of the French New Wave, he was a film critic at the beginning of career and was writing for Cahiers du Cinéma. “Films breathe less, the masterpiece does not breathe,” Truffaut wrote in one of his publications. If we look at the history of cinema, we find something strange in the work of great directors. Jean Renoir gives the impression that in his 37 films he especially avoided creating masterpieces, while Eisenstein aspired to masterpieces in all films. Truffaut was not only film director, but also the best evaluator of someone else’s work. It is to his credit that Alfred Hitchcock is recognized in the European world. François Truffaut himself starred in his own films: “Wild Child” and “American Night”. For more information on François Truffaut as a person, see his interview with Alfred Hitchcock. Think about the similarities between these two completely different directors.
Group work/additional activities
Curriculum links: History
The director chooses Paris of September 1942 for the film. During the group work, discuss the cultural life of the capitals of other European countries (Rome, Berlin, Warsaw) during the German occupation. Try to discuss all areas of theater, cinema, fine arts and literature. How the Nazi occupation used the cultural arsenal of the “conquered countries”.
After discussion and group work, students can visualize the narrative material. Create a wall newspaper or electronic presentation where you present the material you have individually or in groups about Paris of the 1940s. Present the reality of the pre-occupation and post-occupation: streets, cultural life, buildings, social background…
As a result of watching the film, discussing and reviewing it, in which it is necessary to use epoch-making contexts and the above-mentioned recommendations, the student will learn more about the occupied Paris of the 1940s, the cultural life of the country in that times.