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The Religious Affiliation of Director
François Truffaut


In a practical sense, Francois Truffaut was such a huge film buff even from his teen years that throughout his life he had no religion other than film. He was born and raised in a Catholic family, but there is little indication that any of the family members he grew up with were actively religious, although they were loyal to Catholicism. Truffaut was an unbeliever, but he was not antagonistic toward the Church. Among his close friends who were Catholic priests. At Truffaut's request, a Mass was celebrated to mark his death.

Francois Truffaut was ranked #19 on MovieMaker Magazine's list of the 25 Most Influential Film Directors of All Time (issue #47, Summer 2002; URL: http://www.moviemaker.com/issues/47/25.html).

From: Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana, Truffaut, translated from the French by Catherine Temerson, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, NY (1999), pages 3-4:

...on Saturday, February 6, 1932, Janine de Monferrand gave birth to a son, whom she named Fracois Roland. Not even twenty, she had he baby in secret, at a good distance from her family's apartment on rue Henri Monnier, where she still lived. Her parnts, Jean and Genevieve de Monferrand, had known of her pregnancy for only the last three months. Catholic families frowned upon unwed mothers, and this was particularly so among the Monferrands' neighbors and acquaintances in the ninth arrondissement, a quiet, insular, almost provincial neighborhood in the north of Paris...

The infant was immediately placed with a wet nurse... and would only rarely see his mother before the age of three. But after twenty months in obscurity, he at least gained an adoptive father. On October 24, 1933, two weeks before marrying Janine de Monferrand, Roland Truffaut legally recognized the boy, who had been listed as "born of an unknown father." Yet the young couple's wedding, on November 9, did not put an end to the secrecy regarding the infant's existence. Indeed, while "the great injustice had been redressed by a man with a noble heart" and the couple was now acceptd at the family dinner table, young Francois remained in the care of the wet nurse... Francois Truffaut remained an only child, and an unwanted one.

...With Francois in distant banishment, they [his mother and her new husband] continued to pretend he didn't exist. Between increasingly rarer visits, the boy was wasting away, eating very little, and growing sickly, with a sallow complexion. Sensing he might die, his grandmother, Genevieve de Monferrand, decided to take himin, when Francois was nearly three years old. Legimiate in the eyes of hte law, forgiven in the name of Christian charity, adopted by his grandmother, he found a home in the small Monferrand apartment...

The Monferrands [with whom Francois Truffaut lived during his early childhood, for about ten years], originally from Berry, belonged to the minor nobility. After a strict Jesuit education, Jean de Monferrand [Truffaut's grandfather] followed his parents to Paris in 1902... The young couple [Truffaut's grandparents] marred in 1907 and settled in Aubervilliers... Jean was drafted into the army. Like all men of his generation, he would remain profoundly shaken by the Great War [World War I]. The experience tempered his conservative ehos, and introduced a certain humanism into a cultural background marked by nationalism, Catholicism, and legitimism... At the end of his life, Francois Truffaut tried to describe the ambiance of his early childhood: "...My grandfather, a prim disciplinarian who was always impeccably dressed, was frightening to us, particularly at mealtime..."

When Francois Truffaut first married, to Madeleine Morgenstern, he was 25 years old, a star film critic, and a budding film director. Truffaut claimed that he got married only at a town hall (with no larger ceremony, religious or otherwise) because his bride was from a family of Hungarian Jews, and his own family was Catholic. In truth, he simply didn't like his own family very much. From: de Baecque/Toubiana, page 118:
The wedding took place on October 29, 1957, at the town hall of the sixteenth arrondissement. For family reasons, the two youths wanted a discreet ceremony, as simple as possible. Madeline was very worried about her father's health, for he was gravely ill. As for Francois, his relationship with his parents was so strained that he put off introducing his future wife to them until the last moment... Francois made a point of explaining that he was getting married "at the town hall only, since the Morgensterns are Hungarian Jews." This sentence could be regarded as simply informative, but he wrote it as a slap at the Monferrands, whose values he was well aware of--straitlaced, basically nationalistic, and attached to a traditional, Catholic France.
The parents of Truffaut's wife-to-be were not impressed by him or pleased by their daughter's choice. From: de Baecque/Toubiana, page 119:
In the 1950s, Ignace Morgenstern [Truffaut's father-in-law] became one of the major [film[ distributors in Paris... When he met Francois Truffaut, Ignace Morgenstern made no comment to his daughter about this young man who bit his nails and had a timid look in his dark eyes. Morgenstern didn't read Arts, which he regarded as too right-wing; he preferred L'Humanite and Les Lettres francaises, out of ideological conviction, and Le Figaro, to keep track of the reviews of the films he distributed. An established and respected distributor working within the popular cinema, he found nothing to draw him close to the young "hussar," this "thug of journalism," whom Madeleine was seeing. But out of respect and love for his daughter he accepted him.

Elizabeth Morgenstern [Madeleine's mother], on the other hand, never hid the fact that she would have preffered her daughter to marry a Jewish doctor or lawyer, or, in any case, someone Jewish. Medeleine describes her mother as an engaging person who nevertheless had an explosive temper. "My only act of independence was to marry Francois. My mother was possessive, while my father respected the other person's freedom." Clearly, this marriage seemed incongruous to Elizabeth Morgenstern, but she wanted her daughter's happiness above all. She could only look on with disquiet, however, as the wedding ceremony took place.

From: Guy Flatley, "The Man Who Knew How to Work Movie Miracles" (interview/article), first published in The New York Times in 1970; posted on MovieCrazed.com website (http://www.moviecrazed.com/outpast/truffaut.html; viewed 19 July 2005):
Truffaut's disdain for things political may be inherited. "My parents had no politics, no religion," he recalls. "It was the time of the Nazi Occupation, and they were simply waiting for the Germans to go home. Some of my uncles and cousins were members of the Resistance, and they were deported. Other relatives were collaborators. But my father, who was a draftsman, had only one great passion in life: mountain climbing. He and my mother would go on frequent mountain-climbing trips and leave me with relatives. I can still remember them returning, wearing shorts and carrying knapsacks on their backs. Our neighbors all looked upon them as eccentrics.

"We lived in Pigalle, which was the most sexual district of Paris, completely unlike the rest of the city during the war. Classic French prostitutes, wearing black-market stockings, flourished there. And in Pigalle, a shot in the night did not mean that Germans were on the track of some member of the Resistance; it merely meant that someone, be he French or German, had been found sleeping in the wrong bed. Some day I'll probably put all of this in a book, but not in a film. I might do a movie set in that period, but it will not be autobiographical. It won't have a little boy for a hero. I find the idea of reconstructing my childhood in Occupied Paris a disturbing one."

de Baecque/Toubiana, pages 20-21:
Truffaut remained a great reader all his life... According to the screenwrier Jean Gruault, "Francois remained willfully ignorant of Rabelais, Dante, Homer, Melville, Faulkner and Joyce, but had a thorough knowledge of Balzac, Proust, Cocteau, Louis Hemon, Roche, Audiberti, Leautaud, and he liked Thomas Raucat, Jouhandeau, Celine, Calet, Albert Cohen. . . . He also had a weak spot for unrecognized writers like Raymond Guerin. He would read and re-read his books, and they were filled with notes and underlined passages, which showed he applied the same sustained, meticulous attention to the works he read as to the films he watched over and over again."

Absorbed though he was in his library, Truffaut's main escape, even in those early days, was the screen and the darkness of movie theatrs. His line "Life was the screen" summarizes his adolescent passion... He had begun to see two or three films a week, starting at age twelve--a passion centered at first exclusively on French films, since American ones were banned and filmgoers were not much interested in German films.

de Baecque/Toubiana, page 32:
In adolescence, Francois Truffaut made it a point of honor to see three films a day and read three books a week--on his own or with a friend...
In his late teens, Truffaut was so obsessive about watching films that he ended up jailed for many months after stealing property from his place of work to sell to raise money to pay for film screenings, and for failing to pay back money for film rentals and ads he placed to promote screenings. A sympathetic counselor at the juvenile detention center where Truffaut was incarcertated eventually helped arrange for him to meet the legendary film critic Andre Bazin, and also managed to get Truffaut released to a religious home. From: de Baecque/Toubiana, page 43:
...Truffaut did find some small consolations during his detention... Raymond Clarys, director of the Villejuif Observation Center, grew fond of him in spite of his misdemeanors, and brought Francois a regular supply of newspapers and movie magazines... Mademoiselle Rikkers... met with [Truffaut] for several long conversations and played a decisiv role in improving his legal situation; soon the initial diagnosis--"psychomotor instability with perverse tendencies"--was dropped and replaced by a detailed portrait of a youth "using repeated lies to escape" a family environment and an emotional situation that the psychologist saw as "traumatizing."... in March 1949, she contacted Andre Bazin and requested his intercession on her young patient's behalf. Though Bazin hardly knew Francois at the time, he went to see Mademoiselle Rikkers at her home... Not only did he agree to vouch for Francois; he promised to find him a job at Travail et Culture... Thanks to all these guarantees, the judges decided to place Francois in a religiou shome in Versailles three months before his scheduled release. On March 18, 1949, the seventeen-year-old youth was granted semifreedom.
de Baecque/Toubiana, page 44:
On the morning of March 18, 1949, Francois Truffaut was taken to the Guynemer home, on rue Sainte-Sophie, in Versailles. A religious boarding school under the authority of the Seine-et-Oise Association familiale et sociale, its regulations were strict, though less restrictive than those of the Villejuif Observation Center [juvenile detention center]. The nuns of the Notre-Dame parish were an improvement over the Villejuif educators, though Truffaut would not have fond memories of the dormatory, the attendance checks, the strict schedules, and the prayers preceding meals.

Francois still bore the psychological marks of his recent ordeals. This is clear from the essay he wrote for his literature teacher... "My life... has been banal to the utmost... I'm 17 years 1 month and 15 days old. I've eaten almost every day and slept every night; I think I've worked too much and haven't had very many satisfactions or joys. My Christmases and birthdays have all been ordinary and disappointing. I had no particular feelings about the war or the morons who took part in it. I like the Arts and particularly the movies; I consider that work is a necessary evil like excreting, and that any person who likes his work doesn't know how to live. I don't like adventures and have avoided them. Three films a day, three books a week and records of great music would be enough to make me happy to the day I die, which will surely occur one day soon and which I egoistically dread. My parents are no more than human beings to me; it is mere chance that they happen to be my father and mother, which is why they mean no more to me than strangers. I don't believe in friendship, and I don't believe in peace either. I try to stay out of trouble, far from anything that causes too much of a stir. For me, politics is merely a flourishing industry and politicians intelligent crooks. This sums up my adventure; it is neither gay nor sad; it is life. I don't gaze at the sky for long, for when I look back down again the world seems horrid to me."

In 1950, not long after Truffaut attempted suicide by slashing his right arm 25 times, and before Truffaut had yet worked professionally as a film critic or filmmaker, he wrote his first screenplay, but it was never produced. It was about overtly Catholic themes, and he tried to enlist financial backing from the Catholic Church to make the film. Given the nature of the script, it is not surprising the Church turned him down. From: de Baecque/Toubiana, page 44:
Truffaut then focused on a film project. He hoped that in writing his first screenplay, La ceinture de peau d'ange (The Angel Skin Belt), he would regain a zest for living... [the script] is about a [Catholic] communicant, and he had obviously conceived and written the story with the idea of casting [his girlfriend] Lilian Litvin in the female lead. On the day of her First Communion, a young girl is raped by her cousin in the family attic. Six years later, she gets married, and during the wedding dinner she goes up to the attic to look for her childhood toys, which are locked away in an old trunk. Her husband's boss, a guest at the wedding, joins her in the attick; under the pretense of consoling her for her melancholy, he throws her down on an old couch.

In this fantastical screenplay, with its sexual and blasphemous overtones, there were parts for Jacques Rivette (the cousin) and Alexandre Astruc, as well as a part for Truffaut himself, as the communicant's brother. Truffaut hoped to win support from the [Catholic] Church of Paris, presenting the film, therefore, as a documentary on First Communions. To win over the religious authorities, he relied on the help of Abbe Gritti, Abbe Ayfre, and Father Yves Renaud of the Versailles film club, all close friends of Andre Bazin. But the Paris bishopric decided not to support this unorthodox documentary, and in later years, when Truffaut became a filmmaker, he wisely never reconsidered this first youthful screenplay.

In 1951 Truffaut enlisted in the French Army. Later that year, when he was in a military jail for being a deserter, he attempted a second time to commit suicide with a razor (de Baecque/Toubiana, page 66).

In one of his first attempts to write for the prestigious film journal Cahiers du cinema, Truffaut later wrote disparingly about his his first screenplay attempt. He castigated his first screenplay and French screenwriters in general for their excessive use of blasphemy. From: de Baecque/Toubiana, pages 72-73:

In an early version of this essay, Truffaut confessed to his youthful fascination for the dark atmosphere and seamy stories of traditional French films, particularly those written by the most famous screenwriting team of the period, Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost. Indeed, this fascination was discernible in Ceinture de peau d'ange, the story of the First Communion girl which he had wanted to direct in the fall of 1950. "I"m ashamed I was once able to invent a story that is so stupid and nasty, but you could see the influence of the kind of movies I believed in at the time." A taste for blasphemy, a hatred of family, perverse, cynical characters--these were the main themes of the French cinema of that period, and they could be found even in Truffaut's three-page synopsis. No doubt his own "experience of infamy," being locked up in a military prison, marked a decisive and painful stage in his development. He could no longer bear the "infamous stories" of French movies, or the contemptuous superiority directors and screenwriters displayed toward their screen characters. "The director should have the same humility toward his characters that St. Francis of Assisi had toward God. For us to accept infamous characters, the person who creates them must be even more infamous. Anathema, blasphemy, sarcasm are the three paswords of French screenwriters. Griffith, to take a counter-example, is always great because he was even more ingenous than his sreen characters. These 'superior' artists claim to be superior to their creations; this presumption explains, but fails to excuse, the bankruptcy of the arts since the invention of motion pictures.
de Baecque/Toubiana, page 160:
As soon as he arrived in New York, Truffaut made an acquaintance that would be crucial for his American career. Helen Scott was in charge of public relations at the French Film Office... In this capacity, she welcomed Truffaut at the airport upon his arrival in New York and served as his guide and interpreter. Cultivated, fluent in French, a great film enthusiast blessed with a good New York Jewish sense of humor, Scott had been active in the American Left, and later would be in the feminist movement. During the McCarthy period, she had been blacklisted for so-called anti-American activities along with many other wrtiers, screenwriters, left-wing film directors, and members of the American Communist party. With her thorough knowledge of the New York cultural scene and the press, Scott was an indispensable ally for Truffaut in the United States.

Truffaut was never much of a Catholic or a Christian. If Francious Truffaut worshipped any god, it was Alfred Hitchcock. In 1962 Truffaut spent six days interviewing Hitchcock at the acclaimed director's office at Universal Studios. The result was Truffaut's best-selling book about Hitchcock (Baecque/Toubiana, page 197:).

de Baecque/Toubiana, page 198:

After this long series of interviews [with Alfred Hitchcock], Truffaut returned to Paris, where he immediatly felt nostalgic about the "week when I fulfilled an old dream--talking with Hitchcok to my heart's content about cinema." This California sojourn greatly contributed in drawing Helen Scott and Francois Truffaut closer together--not only because they had proved a good team but also because something of a misunderstanding arose, causing a greater complicitous bond between them. For Helen Scott, of course, was in love with Truffaut, while he saw her as a caring "Jewish mother," with a marvelous sense of humor, but not at all as a mistress.
Helen Scott was one of the major collaborators with Truffaut in the creation of his Hitchcock book, and she served as Truffaut's interpreter and additional dialgoue writer when he made his only English-language film, Farenheit 451.

de Baecque/Toubiana, pages 357-358:

Almost as soon as he arrived in Los Angeles, Truffaut received the news of Alfred Hitchcock's death, on April 29, 1980... On May second, Truffaut and Laura went to the little [Catholic] church on Santa Monica Boulevard, in Beverly Hills, where a Mass was held in honor of Hitchcock. This was the same church where one year earlier, "a farewell to Jean Renoir had taken place," Truffaut wrote, comparing the two ceremonies. "Jean Renoir's coffin had been placed in front of the altar. Family, friends, neighbors, film lovers and people off the street attended the ceremony. For Hitchcock it was different. There was no coffin--it had been removed to an unknown destination. The guests, who had been invited by telegram, were checked in at the door by Universal's security men. The police dispersed the crowd outside. It was the burial of a timid man who had become intimidating and who, for the first time, was avoiding publicity, since it wouldn't help his work--a man who, since his adolescence, had trained himself to be in control of the situation." With the deaths of the two directors he probably most admired in the world coming so close together, Truffaut knew he would no longer have the same pleasure visiting Hollywood, as he had been doing once or twice a year for some time.
de Baecque/Toubiana, page 394:
[Francois Truffaut] remained in the hospital for the last three weeks of his life, and he suffered a painful death. Fanny [i.e., Fanny Ardant, Truffaut's secretary and lover] and Madeleine [Truffaut's ex-wife] were by his bedside, and they were soon joined by Laura and Eva [his daughters]. He died on October 21, 1984...

As he had requested, he was cremated at the Pere-Lachaise crematorium on October 24 and his ashes buried in the Montmartre cemetery. Thousands of people--first and foremost, his family, the women he had loved, his friends, actors, and film lovers--attended his burial under a splendid autumn sun. As had been Truffaut's wish, Claude de Givray and Serge Rousseau spoke a few words by his graveside. De Givray had first thought of using Sartre's famous line, "Any man who feels he is indispensible is a bastard!"--a line often uttered by Truffaut, who was aware of his fame but feared being too self-important in the eyes of his friends. In the hearse, de Givray scribbled down some notes on a piece of paper, taking inspiration from the Frank Capra film that Truffaut very much liked, It's a Wonderful Life. James Stewart plays a generous man who is saved from suicide by a guardian angel named Clarence, who lets him briefly visit a world where he wouldn't have existed; he is shown what the lives of his dear ones would have been like if he had not been born. And so it was that the friend delivered a fittingly cinema-inspired oration to the crowd gathered around the director's grave: "If Francois had not been born, if he had not been a director . . ."

One month later, on November 21, 1984, a Mass was celebrated at the church of Saint-Roch by the priest of the Artists' parish and by Father Mambrino. This had been Truffaut's wish; the ceremony had doubtless been discussed during that last interview with the Jesuit father at rue du Conseiller Collignon. Though a nonbeliever, Truffaut, wasn't opposed to the ritual of a church benediction. And the church of Saint-Roch was associated in his mind with the yearly Mass celebrated every October in memory of Jean Cocteau. As in the scene in The Green Room where Julien Davenne, played by Francois Truffaut, celebrates the cult of the dead, hundreds of candles burned in the name of Saint-Roch, creating a veritable forest of light.

From: Annette Insdorf, Francois Truffaut, William Morrow and Company: New York, NY (1979), page 140:
The tension between idolatry and love, inviolate principles and active process, informs almost all of Truffaut's work.
Insdorf, pages 196-197:
As one of the first examples of cinema in the first person singular, Blood of a Poet centers on an artist, explained by the director's voice-over, who suffers in Cocteau's place. Two English Girls inserts itself in this self-conscious tradition... "Reliving the creation" is a deeply appropriate metaphor for this film in which the love of a young man is reborn after a jealous Devil (magnificently played by Jules Berry) has bewitched him into forgetting. The Devil's power is therefore equated with the loss of the memory of love--that whcih Truffaut's diaries, books, and films serve to preserve. At the end, he turns the lovers who now resist him into statues. But the Devil is foiled: he can hear their hearts still beating. His "art" is thus as alive and immortal as himself, mocking the creator in vital solidity. Claude's--and Truffaut's--underlying struggle is with this very Devil, for they attempt to hold on to the memory of love; their creations consequently provide comfort and invite recollection of the past, and the re-living of themselves.

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