Truffaut /
Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana ; translated from the French by Catherine Temerson.
1st American ed.
New York : Knopf, 1999.
xiv, 462 p., [32] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm.
More Details
added author
New York : Knopf, 1999.
catalogue key
Filmography: p. xiii-xiv.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 429-434) and index.
A Look Inside
This item was nominated for the following awards:
First Chapter


At six o'clock in the morning on Saturday, February 6, 1932, Janine de Monferrand gave birth to a son, whom she named Francois Roland. Not even twenty, she had her baby in secret, at a good distance from her family's apartment on rue Henri Monnier, where she still lived. Her parents, 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. Janine had found sanctuary with a midwife, over half an hour's walk from home, on rue Leon Cogniet, near the Parc Monceau. Two days later, the child's birth was registered at the town hall of the seventeenth arrondissement.


The infant was immediately placed with a wet nurse--first in Montmorency, then in Boissy-Saint-Leger--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 accepted at the family dinner table, young Francois remained in the care of the wet nurse. In the spring of 1934, Roland and Janine had another son, whom they named Rene, but the baby died before he was two months old. One wonders how, had this brother lived, the shared childhood might have affected Francois's creative outlook and his path in life. But Francois Truffaut remained an only child, and an unwanted one.

Deeply shaken by the death of their little Rene, the young couple decided to leave the family enclave and move into a modest two-room apartment on rue du Marche-Popincourt, in the Folie-Mericourt neighborhood. It was now, more than ever, out of the question for them to take in Francois. The child reminded his young mother of a gloomy period in her life: "Rene's death was a tragedy," recalls Monique, Janine's younger sister. "For, suddenly, what everyone in the family had until then been hiding became obvious: that Francois existed, that he would be an embarrassment, the victim of a rigid society and an unloved child." With Francois in distant banishment, they 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 him in, when Francois was nearly three years old. Legitimate in the eyes of the law, forgiven in the name of Christian charity, adopted by his grandmother, he found a home in the small Monferrand apartment at 21 rue Henri Monnier. Jean and Genevieve occupied the bedroom; Bernard, their fourteen-year-old son, slept in the vestibule; Monique (their youngest child, aged ten) and Francois slept in the living room. Genevieve de Monferrand, "Damere Vieve," had accepted Francois into her care, under the strict gaze of her "straitlaced" husband, who would never forget "Janine's follies with workers in the neighborhood or disreputable types, sometimes even with foreigners."


The Monferrands were a small noble family, originally from Berry. After a strict Jesuit education, Jean de Monferrand followed his parents to Paris in 1902. He met his wife, Genevieve de Saint-Martin, through the personal ads. She was from the Oc region, between Auch and Brugnac in the Lot-et-Garonne, where part of her family--also from minor nobility--still lived. After graduating from the lycee in Agen, she went to Paris to complete her literary studies. The young couple married in 1907 and settled in Aubervilliers. Following the births of their first two children, Suzanne and Janine, Jean was drafted into the army. Like all men of his generation, he would remain profoundly shaken by the Great War. The experience tempered his conservative ethos, and introduced a certain humanism into a cultural background marked by nationalism, Catholicism, and legitimism. He and Genevieve had two other children--Bernard in 1921 and Monique in 1925. Very much satisfied with the rectitude and discipline of their own good upbringing, they raised their four children in a strict but generous way. At the end of his life, Francois Truffaut tried to describe the ambiance of his early childhood: "There had been titles in the family. My grandfather, a prim disciplinarian who was always impeccably dressed, was frightening to us, particularly at mealtime. He was really a pain in the neck. For example, at the dinner table, my aunt Monique, who was very mischievous, would take a fistful of salt and throw it behind her, just like that, and I would roar with laughter. He would immediately grab me by the collar and say, 'Take your plate to the kitchen!' I would finish almost all my meals in the kitchen. That's what the Monferrand atmosphere was like."

The family had moved into the apartment on rue Henri Monnier after the war. Jean de Monferrand worked very close by, overseeing the letters to the editor at L'Illustration, one of the most important periodicals of the time, which had its offices on rue Saint-Georges. Though the position was a modest one, he was proud of being the editor of a column. Although the Monferrand family always lived quite frugally, the atmosphere at home was a literary and musical one. Genevieve, a former schoolteacher, was a music lover and very well read. An occasional writer, she had penned a novel entitled Apotres (Apostles), written in a very mannered style and permeated with mystical fervor. Genevieve shared her passion for reading with Francois, taking him, at the age of five or six, on long walks through the Drouot neighborhood, from bookstore to bookstore, and to the public library in the ninth arrondissement. All four Monferrand children inherited their mother's interest in literature and music, though they took quite different career paths. Bernard, the third-born, chose the military, first attending Navale and then, at the end of the thirties, entering Saint-Cyr military academy. Monique, the youngest child, studied the violin and graduated from the Paris Conservatoire during the Nazi Occupation. Janine, the second child, was more dissolute and fickle; she was impeded in her studies by her love affairs and, above all, by her status as a single mother. Nevertheless, she kept up with the theatrical and literary events of the prewar period. But she had to go to work. In 1934, her father got her a job as a shorthand typist at the weekly magazine L'Illustration, where she earned eleven hundred francs a month.

For the Monferrands, physical exercise, especially mountain climbing, was as important as intellectual activity. The whole family belonged to the Club Alpin francais (French Alpine Club, a prestigious mountaineering society), and in the early thirties, Jean was vice president of the Paris chapter. It was there at the club that Janine, who had a certain standing as the vice president's daughter, met Roland Truffaut, a mountaineering enthusiast. He was not much older than she; of medium height and somewhat scrawny, he often wore a beret and tended to lean his head forward. But he was amusing, attentive, dexterous, and, above all, very well versed in matters concerning snap hooks, ropes, and ice axes.

The different branches of the Truffaut family had lived for several generations west and south of Paris, between the Vexin Normand and the Orge region, with some members moving close to the center of France, to Valigny, in the Allier, where Roland was born in May 1911. These were agricultural areas, populated with prosperous farming families and rural artisans--a completely different milieu from the Monferrands', which was more closed, more cultured, but less affluent. In the 1920s, Roland's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ferdinand Truffaut, had settled in the Essonne, about sixty miles south of Paris, in Juvisy-sur-Orge, a large market town that was still rural, though the farmland was already giving way to industrial development and a network of roads. The couple lived in a modest but pleasant house, with a courtyard, a garden, and, in the back, a workshop giving out on the countryside. Ferdinand Truffaut was a stonemason, working primarily with marble. He had a good reputation--for his carving skill as well as for his modest prices, which hadn't gone up, it seemed, since the early twenties. He worked on commission, making bowls, ashtrays, marble legs for stone tables, and especially tombstones for the nearby cemetery. Life in Juvisy was quiet in the beginning of the thirties, at the time when the couple's three children, Roland, Robert, and Mathilde, were finishing their studies.

Roland Truffaut moved to Paris in 1929 to get a diploma in architecture. He found work at eighteen as an architectural draftsman--in other words, as the most junior member in an architectural firm--drawing map layouts and blueprints for current projects. He earned just enough money to rent a room in the Lorettes district and pursue his passion for mountaineering. He could even buy the latest equipment and take advantage of the Club Alpin's outings to Savoie, Switzerland, the Vercors, or, better yet, the rocky inlets near Marseilles and the Italian Dolomites. At the end of the thirties, his profession and his passion converged when he found work as the architect and decorator for the French Scouts, les claireurs de France, on rue de la Chaussee d'Antin.

By then, he had met Janine de Monferrand at the Paris headquarters of the Club Alpin, where she was one of the organizers. A small woman, about five foot one, she was lively and dark-haired, slightly plump, and quite seductive. The engagement was short, and the marriage quick. The couple earned a modest living and pursued their Sunday mountaineering activities. On the eve of the war, Roland Truffaut became a member of the Club Alpin's board of directors, and later he was elected vice president of the Paris-Chamonix chapter; he was actively involved with the magazine La Montagne and in managing mountain refuges. Janine de Monferrand did not always follow dutifully in his tracks. Independent and cultivated, she often preferred evenings at the theater or at the Gaumont-Palace movie theater to the Club Alpin's meetings at rue de la Boetie. She read a great deal, especially the trendy writers of the period, such as Maxence Van der Meersch and Charles Morgan, or "modern writers" like Andre Gide, Jean Giraudoux, and Paul Valery. She cared about her appearance and spent whatever money she could spirit away from her husband's mountaineering passion on making herself elegant. She also had a few love affairs, and never really bothered to hide the fact, since Roland Truffaut was so wrapped up in his club and his expeditions. There was a "Monsieur Robert," for example--Robert Vincendon, a quasi-official lover, who joined the family dinner table every Thursday evening and never failed to bring a gift--a bottle of wine for Roland or a book for his mistress. In the midst of all these activities, they lived like a childless couple; Francois was merely a shadow.

Copyright © 1999 Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2000-01-01:
Who doesn't love Truffaut's films? The director of classics like Jules and Jim was clear-eyed in his probing of human folly but always had a light touch. So do the authors of this biography, an entertaining look at the man and his art that also offers a capsule history of French cinema in the last half of this century. (LJ 5/15/99) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 1999-10-01:
Baecque and Toubiana have created a fascinating biography about an important filmmaker. The father of the French New Wave's auteur concept, Truffaut was a skilled critic who became a great director. He created the classics The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim before he was 30; he went on to make Fahrenheit 451, The Wild Child, Day for Night, The Story of Adele H., and The Last Metro, among many others. The present volume details the filmmaker's strange childhood, troubled adolescent years, and tortured adult life. The authors had access to all of Truffaut's notes plus an autobiographical sketch. They document their extensive research and interviews in more than 67 pages of notes and a bibliography. Baecque and Toubiana include Truffaut's evaluation of each film and, to a lesser extent, the public's and critics' responses. Rarely has such a seamless profile of a complicated individual been written, particularly a person as secretive about private life as Truffaut. Temerson deserves mention for her readable translation. This book captures an era and profiles a memorable artist. Recommended for all collections. R. Blackwood City Colleges of Chicago
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-04-26:
When Steven Spielberg directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1976, he cast Franois Truffaut, the celebrated 44-year-old innovator of French new wave cinema, as a scientist specializing in UFOs. I needed, Spielberg recalled, a man who would have the soul of a child. In this extensively researched biography, film historians de Baecque and Toubiana dont fully capture the Truffaut whom Spielberg seemed to grasp so intuitively. An autodidact and teenage movie fanatic, Truffaut did a stint at a juvenile prison before being taken under the wing of film critic Andr Bazin, who helped launch his career. An illegitimate child, having never learned to bond, he seems to have also sought compensation in compulsive philandering. Truffaut was notorious for bedding beautiful women, usually actresses in his films, but every relationship (with the exception of that with his divorced wife, Madeleine, who was as loyal as he was faithless) was brief. De Baecque and Toubiana identify this drive, this thirst, this voracious need to seduce only in terms of his imposing his own style. Yet their most poignant pages show Truffaut, having found his real father through a private detective, spying on the old man as he takes his nightly walk. Truffauts courage failed him; rather than introduce himself, he fled to the darkness of a nearby cinema and watched an old Chaplin film. When Truffaut died at 52 in 1984, he was celebrated for what the authors call his hallmark style, defined here as often carefully orchestrated improvisation. Today his reputation is based upon a few significant successesamong them The 400 Blows (1959), Jules and Jim (1962) and The Last Mtro (1980)and many forgettable failures. Some fans may pick up Truffauts biography solely for its survey of his work, but the life that shaped it, though only partially realized here, is moving in its pathos. 68 b&w illustrations. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Los Angeles Times, April 1999
New York Times Book Review, April 1999
Publishers Weekly, April 1999
Library Journal, May 1999
Washington Post, May 1999
San Francisco Chronicle, June 1999
Chicago Tribune, July 1999
Choice, October 1999
Library Journal, January 2000
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
The Films of Francois Truffaut
A Clandestine Childhood: 1932-1946
Four Hundred Blows: 1946-1952
Life was the Screen: 1952-1958
New Wave: 1958-1962
The Slow Years: 1962-1968
Parallel Lives: 1968-1971
Cinema Man: 1971-1979
The Unfinished Figure: 1979-1984
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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