wander the sea

The Soft Skin: La Peau Douce

 

Pensez à moi.

Franoise DorlŽac and Jean Desailly in Franois Truffaut's THE SOFT SKIN (1964). Courtesy Janus Film. Playing 3/11-3/17

Françoise DorlŽac and Jean Desailly in François Truffaut’s The Soft Skin (1964). Courtesy Janus Film.

Pierre Lachenay glances over at a closed curtain that reveals the stewardess, changing her shoes just before the plane lands in Lisbon. His attention towards her feet is out of the ordinary and is marked by the creepiness of an older, married man. The stewardess in question, is a young girl with a delicate face—thin, tall with bountiful, light brown hair that falls over her shoulders. As Pierre departs, the stewardess tells him to wait. It was the 1960s and Pan Am airlines was all the rage, and if you were a famous writer like Mr. Lachenay, photographers waited outside the plane to take your photo alongside a delightful stewardess. They both pose and nothing more. We are led to believe these two will go their separate ways. There are no clues at the onset of the film that reveal Mr. Lachenay’s unhappiness with family life.

He arrives at the hotel with a lack of interest towards the room. The director, François Truffaut, doesn’t spend too much time depicting Mr. Lachenay ‘s lecture on the subject of the French novelist Honoré Balzac. Balzac was a realist believing, “that details alone will henceforth determine the merit of works.” Many of his characters were described through the objects and the environments that surrounded them.

Strangely enough the camera gives more time to Mr. Lachenay’s curious glances at a familiar girl in the elevator. It’s the stewardess from the plane, standing next to the co-pilot. They exchange glances, but Mr. Lachenay doesn’t say a word. The co-pilot leaves and we are left with a heavy air, dramatized by silence and tension. The stewardess drops her room key, and Mr. Lachenay takes notice of the room number, then she gets off on the 8th floor. He stays in the elevator as she walks quickly to her room, and we are granted a view of her flighty steps and soft calves, walking away on black heels. She looks back quickly and keeps walking to her room.

Mr. Lachenay returns to his room on the third floor confounded, wishing he had spoken to the girl. Left with the image of her walking away, he decides to call her. The screen centers on the rotary dial, as his finger moves each number deliberately, and he tells the receptionist to transfer the call to the room in question.

He meets the stewardess that same night; they go for a dinner date and begin a tame affair. He sees her often, even inviting her on a last-minute road trip. “I like you in a skirt,” Mr. Lachenay tells Nicole (Françoise Dorléac), the stewardess who is now comfortably wearing jeans, and sitting on the passenger seat.

The black and white film is a stark reality, seducing the viewer into a lustful affair. Actor, Jean Desailly (Mr. Lachenay) has a way of conveying emotions that the audience can easily absorb. On the surface he has a caring demeanor about his family, but is occupied with his feelings for Nicole. We can sense the creepiness behind his obsession for her. Nicole is a romantic girl who wants sincere love, not the lustful embrace of a married man.

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“I’ve discovered life wasn’t what I expected lately,” she says these words softly, as Mr. Lachenay hints that she’ll be taking the role of step-mother for his daughter, Sabine. All this appears to be rushed. He has a few scenes with Sabine, including one where he plays a flighty song for her. The song is really meant for his current mood of infatuation for Nicole.

The movie is stylistically beautiful, suspenseful and sensual, but the plot itself is simple. Man cheats and momentarily becomes obsessed with a divine stewardess, which leads to his demise. He never loved Nicole, but instead has a lascivious, predatory attitude towards her. Nicole is a young, flighty, emotionally girl, and Mr. Lachenay, a manipulative, dismissive writer, who only cares about a statuesque mistress but doesn’t truly love Nicole or the loss of his family life.

“Why don’t you say you love me?” Nicole asks, to which Mr. Lachenay replies that he’s tired and stressed out. “Don’t forget to think about me,” she tells him, as she leaves his car one night.

Of his wife, Franca, we don’t know too much, but she stands like a goddess with black puffy hair and black eyeliner. She wants nothing more than his return; she would easily forgive him, but there’s an emerging anger directed at the opulence of male betrayal.

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