If films were planes, Francois Truffaut's "The Last Metro" would be a glider, cutting gently through the winds of occupied Paris, and moving gracefully through the lives of a theatrical troup attempting to mount a production during wartime. As Marion Steiner, Catherine Deneuve brings elegance and beauty to the subtle intrigue and fluctuating emotions of day-to-day life under Nazi occupation in 1942. Like Truffaut's film, her performance is one of nuance and subtlety, and garnered her the award for best actress in France.
Marion Steiner leads two lives, separated only by a stairway. Below the theatre, in the cellar, she shares a love with her husband Lucas (Heinz Bennet), a Jewish theatrical director who must live in hiding, coming to life only when Marion's footsteps bring her into his claustrophobic world.
Their love is real, but is slowly threatened by the distance and contrast of the living going on up above and the stagnation and frustration below. The internal strain becomes greater when Marion falls under the spell of her leading man, Gerard Depardieu, Truffaut's camera capturing the fleeting glances and icy demeanor that is our window into Marion's heart. Depardieu's passion for French resistance, however, may prove greater than his passion for the theatre, and Marion must also contend with a pro-Nazi theatre critic who could sink the production before it begins.
Only after Truffaut has used his camera to show us this elegantly detailed world of the French theatre during wartime does his screenplay suprise us, and remind us in an uplifting way that life itself is but a play, and we are all part of the cast.
This is definitely a masterpiece, but if you have not ventured into foreign films yet, I would not suggest this be your maiden voyage. One must ride the 747 first to appreciate the grace of Truffaut's glider, turning ever so quietly, without a sound, into the winds of the human heart.