Le Dernier Métro (The Last Metro) (1980)

 

 

 

Director:    François Truffaut. 

Cast:     Catherine Deneuve (Marion Steiner), Gérard Depardieu (Bernard Granger), Jean Poiret (Jean-Loup Cottins), Andréa Ferréol (Arlette Guillaume), Paulette Dubost (Germaine Fabre), Jean-Louis Richard (Daxiat), Maurice Risch (Raymond Boursier), Sabine Haudepin (Nadine Marsac), Heinz Bennent (Lucas Steiner), Christian Baltauss (Bernard's Replacement), Pierre Belot (Desk Clerk), René Dupré (Valentin), Aude Loring, Alain Tasma (Marc), Rose Thiéry (Jacquot's Mother / Concierge).

a gentile wife conceals  her Jewish theatre director husband from the Nazis during the German occupation of France

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Paris, September 1942.  Half of France is occupied by Nazi Germany.  In Paris there is an 11 p.m. curfew.  No one can afford to miss the last metro. 

Bernard Granger tries to pick-up a nice-looking woman (Arlette Guillaume) on the street.  But she does not want anything to do with him.  She finally gives him a wrong telephone number and walks away.  Bernard tries to get into the Theatre Montmarte, but he can't.  He has to go through the stage door.  There he is told that Mrs. Marion Steiner is expecting him.  Her Jewish husband has left France because the Germans are arresting  Jewish people.  Jean-Loup tells Marion that actor Rosen's Aryan certificate is a fake.  She responds:  "No Jews in Marion Steiner's Theatre!"  When Rosen hears about this he exclaims:  "What an outrage!"  Bernard says that maybe he shouldn't take the acting job, if Rosen needs it. The director Jean-Loup tells him not to worry about all that. 

Jean-Loup is to have dinner with the inspector-general, the theatre critic Daxiat.  He tells Marion that she should come along because he kind of promised Daxiat that she and he would have dinner with the collaborator.  Daxiat has promised to get their play a censor's visa to bypass the German censorship system.  But Marion does not want any part of Daxiat.  She will say hello to him, but she will not eat dinner with them. 

At the rehearsal for the new play, Arlette Guillaume and Bernard Granger are introduced to each other.  It's an awkward introduction, since Bernard had virtually accosted her on the street.  A woman brings a 14 pound ham to the theatre for Marion to purchase.  Marion gives the stage manager Raymond permission to purchase the ham.  They put the ham in a cello carrier case so no one will see it.  Actress Nadine Marsac arrives one hour late to rehearsal.  Jean-Loup is a bit upset with her.  Nadine starts crying. 

After rehearsal, Marion locks up and then leaves the theatre.  But in a few moments she reenters the building.  She walks down to the basement from a hidden trap door.  There she greets her husband Lucas, who is hiding from the Germans.  She tells him that he cannot leave France at this time because the escape route has been blocked.  And Daxiat is strenuously hunting Jews in the theatre.  Marion then tells her husband that the authorities receive 1,500 letters rat-finking on the Jewish people every day.  They both go upstairs and Lucas takes a shower, while his wife prepares something to eat. 

Daxiat shows up at the theatre rehearsals.   Marion is not pleased.  Jean-Loup tells her to go over and say hello to the man.  She does say hello to him, but almost immediately returns to her seat.  Daxiat tells her later how much he admires Lucas Steiner, but Marion looks skeptical of the sincerity of this sentiment.  On the radio, the inspector-general delivers an anti-Semitic diatribe against Jews in the theatre.  A young girl named Rosette comes into Marion's officer wearing her obligatory yellow star on her coat.  She says, in spite of all the restrictilons, she was able to hear Edith Piaf sing at the ABC theatre.  She just arranged her clothing to hide the yellow star from view. 

Marion talks with Lucas about their plan.  He is to be sneaked into Vichy France (the "free" part of France) and then into Spain.  Marion will go to Spain at a later date. 

Jean-Loup talks with the boy named Jacquot about his mastery of speech.  He has the boy repeat a couple of phrases and seems satisfied with the response.  He will use him in the performance.

News arrives that the Germans have invaded the free zone.  Marion tells Lucas that it is too dangerous now and he will have to wait to escape to Spain.  This makes Lucas very upset.  Frankly, he is going crazy being cooped up down in the basement.  He starts to cry.  Then he stasrts talking wildly about registering with the authorities.  Marion is absolutely shocked at this suggestion as it would mean the concentration camp for sure.  She tells him:  "I won't let you."  She knocks him unconscious with an object.  She stays with Lucas overnight and sleeps too late the next day.  The crew is already coming in to work, so Marion has to use a different exit than the trap door. 

After work she comes downstairs to visit with Lucas.  He says he has figured out a way for him to be able to hear the rehearsals and the actual performances.  Now he seems much more animated.  He tells Marion that he will direct the play from the cellar. 

Bernard takes a record player from the theatre.  Raymond objects, but Bernard tells him Marion gave him permission to take it to a party.  But instead of going to a party, outside he hands the record player to a young man.  Daxiat has arrived.  He wants to speak with Marion.  He tells her that from their sources the Germans know that Lucas is still in France.  An air raid siren sounds and everybody has to go to the shelter.  Daxiat tells Marion that she should get a divorce because her Jewish last name will only hurt her. 

On the radio there is news that an explosive device was placed in a record player and detonated to kill Admiral Froelich.  Marion catches Nadine and Arlette kissing in the dressing room.  Arlette chases after her to tell Marion that this should not affect her work at the theatre.  Marion say fine, but "keep you love life out of the theatre."  Afterwards Arlette tells Jean-Loup that Marion is too tough on the actors and crew.  After work Lucas tells Marion that she needs to pay more attention her workers.  So Marion goes out with some of the cast to a night club.  Only a handful show up.  Nadine soon says she cannot stay and leaves.  Bernard comes in with a woman named Simone who the cast and crew know.  But when Bernard sees the large number of German military hats at the hat check, he and Simone excuse themselves from the dinner. Marion tries to be friendlier with Arlette by asking the woman to sit next to her.  But soon Marion excuses herself.  She speaks with a man named René Bernardini and then leaves with him. 

One day Simone goes into the different dressing rooms acting suspiciously.  Later Nadine tells everyone that her purse is missing.  Especially bad is that the thief got all her documents of identification.  It doesn't take long before Simone's name comes up in reference to the theft.  Everyone seems convinced that Simone did it. 

It is opening night.  Marion sees René Bernardini arrive and asks Bernard to get rid of him, which he does.  The play is a hit.  (During the actors' bows to the audience, Marion kisses Bernard on the lips, which really surprises him.)  The next morning Marion goes out to a newsstand and buys quite a few newspapers to get the theatre reviews.  Daxiat savages the play.  Among other nasty comments he says "The play reeks of Jewishness."  He says that Marion is just a feminine version of her Jewish husband/director.  The actors and some staff meet at a night club, but this time they are all present. When Bernard sees Daxiat at the club he grabs him and forcefully takes him over to the actors' table.  He demands that Daxiat apologize to Marion for what he wrote about her.  Daxiat refuses and Bernard tussles with him.  Outside they continue to struggle with each other before it is broken up by others.  A very angry Marion scolds Bernard for manhandling Daxiat.  They can't afford this kind of behavior because of Daxiat's contacts with the Gestapo.

Lucas tells Marion that their next production will be "The Magic Mountain".  He then complains to her about her distant attitude toward him.  In spite of herself, she ends up being cruel.  Jean-Loup sees Daxiat and tells him that his theatre review was a vicious attack.  But Daxiat wants to talk about another subject.  He says:  "Help me save the Montmarte Theatre."  He has discovered that the theatre transaction was illegal because the transfer was ante-dated.  Legally, the theatre doesn't belong to anyone.  And given that, the Germans could requisition the theatre.  That is, unless someone the Nazis approve of, takes over.  And, of course, Daxiat sees himself as the trustworthy one.   He wants to take over the theatre along with Jean-Loup.  Daxiat will select the plays and Jean-Loup will direct them. 

When Marion gets wind of Daxiat's project she decides to go over his head to see Dr. Dietrich.  As she goes in Simone comes out with a German officer.  The implication is that Simone is working for the Gestapo.  Inside Marion is informed that Dr. Dietrich has been sent to the front.  As she starts to leave, a Lt. Berger asks to speak with her in private.  He tells her that he is an admirer.  The Lieutenant then tells Marion that Dietrich shot himself last night.  And then, wouldn't you know it, he starts getting fresh with her.  Marion pulls away and leaves.

At the theatre Bernard sees René Bernardini arrive.  Then the young man who took the record player from Bernard shows up (probably to meet with Bernard).  The Gestapo grab the young man and whisk him away very quickly.  Bernard sees all this happen.  Later Bernard tells Marion that he is leaving.  He wants to join the French resistance.  Marion slaps Bernard.  

The Civil Defense inspector shows up demanding to see the cellar.  Marion sends Bernard down to warn Lucas.  Bernard tells her that these Germans are not Civil Defense but rather Gestapo.  Then Bernard goes down to Lucas.  Lucas is glad to meet Bernard.  He tells him that Marion is in love with him and asks Bernard if he loves her.  Bernard evades the comment and question.  The Gestapo examines downstairs but do not find Bernard and Lucas hiding behind multiple backdrops for different plays.  Afterwards, Marion asks Bernard in his dressing room if he was going to leave without saying anything.  Bernard kisses her and and says "You intimidated me."  He denies that he ever hated her.  They really start kissing now.  Going down on the floor they have sex.  

The Allies on D-Day invade France and push the Germans out.  After 813 days in hiding Lucas emerges from the cellar into the light.  There is still sporadic gunfire going on.  Jean-Loup is arrested and then let go because of his important contacts.  Then he he re-arrested because of those very same contacts.  Daxiat is on the run.  He flees to Spain.  He in condemned to death in absentia.  He dies in the 1960s of cancer. 

A bit later.  Marion visits Bertrand in the hospital.  She tells him that she still loves him.  What about Lucas?  He is dead now and she gave up acting ands the theatre.  Bertrand, however, tells her that he never really loved her.  He adds:  "Go away!"  Then we learn that this was actually just Lucas's new play for the Montmarte Theatre and the scene in the hospital was just part of the act.

 

Good movie.  But my wife and I thought in parts it dragged.  And also what about that crazy ending?  What actually happened to Marion and Bernard and Marion and Lucas.  Obviously we know they still acted together after the end of the German occupation, but what was the romantic relationship.  My wife said they leave it up to us to decide what happened in the relationship.  (I don't really care for that because it is a morally questionable situation the three find themselves involved in.  The author should have told us.  Why do I have to make the decision?  I want to hear it from Truffaut.)   Catherine Deneuve as the cold Marion Steiner did a good job, but it was written as such a cold character that I had a hard time being very sympathetic to her.   She was cold even with Lucas and Bernard.  It was a shock to my wife and I when Lucas tells Bernard that Marion is in love with him.  Who knew with that sour puss she was always wearing.  I thought her rejection of Bernard was believable given that she was cold to everyone and would have to start manifesting unreasonableness and irritability at some point to come with the stress she was definitely under.  If they could have lightened up her character just a bit to leave us at least suspecting that Marion might love Bernard, it would have been even a better picture.  Gérard Depardieu was very good as the womanizer Bernard. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

In the extra features they point out that in occupied France it was a period of dark times.  Arrests were very common and citizens constantly denounced others to the Gestapo.  There was also a lot of rationing of goods.  In this atmosphere there was a great desire to escape reality.  So theatres and movie houses did a thriving business.  But because there were so many Germans in Paris often the audiences for the theatre were primarily German. 

Further, the extra feature says that Truffaut did a lot of research for the movie.  He had no real feeling for politics.  Politics were just so much background.  (I find that hard to believe both in the movie and in the reality of the German occupation.)  The movie was a smash hit and won the equivalent of a French Oscar for best picture and best director. 

 

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