This somewhat forgotten 1972 black comedy from Francois Truffaut saw the French filmmaker working again with his first leading lady, Bernadette LaFont, in a performance that sees the actor go from being the target of the eponymous mischief makers of Les Mistons, to being the source of much trouble herself.
LaFont’s character, Mrs Camille Bliss, has tread a similar path to that Truffaut’s great analog, Antoine Doinel. She is in and out of institutions for much of her life, be they juvenile incarceration centers or romantic unions, ultimately to find herself in jail, where she is the subject of a thesis by Stanislas Prévine, a young sociologist investigating “women who kill”. For both Bliss and Doinel cinema masks the pain of disfunction. Her tale is one told in flashbacks inside of flashbacks, the presentation resembling a cartoon, with farce hiding the horror of domestic violence.
Like Doinel too, Bliss is a Pathological liar, and the ultimate unreliable narrator. In her own history, for that is what we see, flashbacks derived from her own retelling of events, Bliss comes across like a twisted Pippi Longstocking. LaFont plays her through the ages, from teenhood through to adult, emphasising the feeling of the fairytale-like even further.
A Gorgeous Girl Like Me features some of the best camerawork of Truffaut’s career. Gone is the ground-level realism of the early films, and in comes a sweeping, more Hollywoodly cinematic shape to his vision. The crane shot reigns, with an early sequence in which the whole scope of a house is tracked from outside taking in everything from the kitchen to the garage, while the film ends on a crane-enabled reveal that’s as technically bold as it is narratively. It’s Truffaut at his most temporally playful too, with the literary-esque form of the picture allowing for a film that bounces between several different periods of time over the course of it’s 98 minutes. The episodic nature and melodrama of the piece remind also of the early cinema serials. He looks to the heights of Vertigo for the central cog in his third act conspiracy, a left turn which comes as some surprise to the viewer, given the film’s opening hour is very funny. One character is only capable of having sex while a recording of the Indianapolis 500 plays, while Arthur the exterminator is like something from the background of a Jacques Tati movie. I won’t show a film unfinished. The comedic streak runs through the movie too, holding strong while the picture is at it’s darkest, before cinema saves the day.
In many ways A Gorgeous Girl Like Me acts as a subversion of the freewheeling figures of the nouvelle vague. There are repercussions here. Prison isn’t a particularly romantic fate, not like suicide or driving off in to the sunset. Nor is it particularly poetic, like murder, or an ambiguous end. There’s a temporality to incarceration that is at odds with the cinematic, an eternal road to a punchline that isn’t coming. Truffaut’s attitude toward cinematic and personal fidelity is a source of endless fascination, and it’s interesting to compare this movie to something like The Soft Skin, a film which features another writer protagonist to whom a terrible fate is attached after he involves himself with an external force of nature.