Truffaut follows in the tradition of Jean-Pierre Melville by adapting a popular genre as a serious allegory for the darkest period in French history: the Nazi Occupation. Just as Melville used the gangster film to examine notions of legality, legitimacy, authority and criminality in a period when the Resistance were outlaws and the police were rounding up Jews for the death camps, so Truffaut takes the beloved putting-on-a-show warhorse, and uses it as a metaphor for the conditions of life in Occupied France: the need to act, adapt and continually discard roles. When Depardieu's character leaves to fight for the Resistance, he puns about exchanging his make-up (maquillage) for the maquis. What Truffaut is most interested in, as in all his films, is the effect this need for constant dissembling has on individual identity and relationships.
This wonderful romantic comedy plays like a mature update of 'Casablanca', richly stylised, bravely open-ended, with Truffaut's moving camera wrenching spirit from claustrophobic confines.