Oscar Directors: Truffaut, Francois–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

September 24, 2020

Francois Truffaut Career Summation

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François Roland Truffaut (French: February 6, 1932–October 21, 1984) was a French film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film critic. He is widely regarded as one of the founders of the French New Wave.

In a career lasting over a quarter of a century, he remains an icon of the French film industry, having worked on over 25 films.

Truffaut’s film The 400 Blows is a defining film of the French New Wave movement, and has four sequels, Antoine et Colette, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run, between 1958 and 1979.

Truffaut’s 1973 film Day for Night earned him critical acclaim and several accolades, including the BAFTA Award for Best Film and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. His other notable films include Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jules and Jim (1961), The Soft Skin (1964), The Wild Child (1970), Two English Girls (1971), The Last Metro (1980), and The Woman Next Door (1981).

Truffaut was born in Paris on February 6, 1932. His mother was Janine de Montferrand. His mother’s future husband, Roland Truffaut, accepted him as an adopted son and gave him his surname. He was passed around to live with various nannies and his grandmother for a number of years. His grandmother instilled in him her love of books and music. He lived with her until her death, when Truffaut was eight years old. It was only after her death that he lived with his parents. The identity of Truffaut’s biological father is unknown, but a private detective agency in 1968 revealed that its inquiry into the matter led to a Roland Levy, a Jewish dentist from Bayonne. Truffaut’s mother’s family disputed the finding but Truffaut believed and embraced it.

Truffaut often stayed with friends and tried to be out of the house as much as possible. He knew Robert Lachenay from childhood, and they were lifelong best friends. Lachenay was the inspiration for the character René Bigey in The 400 Blows and worked as an assistant on some of Truffaut’s films. Cinema offered Truffaut the greatest escape from an unsatisfying home life. He was eight years old when he saw his first movie, Abel Gance’s Paradis Perdu (Paradise Lost, 1939), beginning his obsession. He frequently skipped school and sneaked into theaters because he lacked the money for admission. After being expelled from several schools, at age 14 he decided to become self-taught. Two of his academic goals were to watch three movies a day and read three books a week.

Truffaut frequented Henri Langlois’s Cinémathèque Française, where he was exposed to countless foreign films, becoming familiar with American cinema and directors such as John Ford, Howard Hawks and Nicholas Ray, Hitchcock.

After starting his own film club in 1948, Truffaut met André Bazin, who had a great effect on his professional and personal life. Bazin was a critic and the head of another film society at the time. He became a personal friend of Truffaut’s and helped him out of various financial and criminal situations during his formative years.

Truffaut joined the French Army in 1950, aged 18, but spent the next two years trying to escape. He was arrested for attempting to desert the army and incarcerated in military prison. Bazin used his political contacts to get Truffaut released and set him up with a job at his new film magazine, Cahiers du cinéma.

Over the next few years, Truffaut became a critic (and later editor) at Cahiers, where he became notorious for his brutal, unforgiving reviews. He was called “The Gravedigger of French Cinema” and was the only French critic not invited to the 1958 Cannes Film Festival. He supported Bazin in developing one of the most influential theories of cinema, the auteur theory.

In 1954, Truffaut wrote an article in Cahiers du cinéma, “Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Français” (“A Certain Trend of French Cinema”),[8] in which he attacked the state of French films, lambasting certain screenwriters and producers, and listing eight directors he considered incapable of devising the kinds of “vile” and “grotesque” characters and storylines he called characteristic of the mainstream French film industry: Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Jean Cocteau, Jacques Becker, Abel Gance, Max Ophuls, Jacques Tati and Roger Leenhardt. The article caused a storm of controversy, and landed Truffaut an offer to write for the nationally circulated, more widely read cultural weekly Arts-Lettres-Spectacles. Truffaut wrote more than 500 film articles for that publication over the next four years.

Truffaut later devised the auteur theory, according to which the director was the “author” of his work and great directors such as Renoir or Hitchcock have distinct styles and themes that permeate their films. Although his theory was not widely accepted then, it gained some support in the 1960s from American critic Andrew Sarris. In 1967, Truffaut published his book-length interview of Hitchcock, Hitchcock/Truffaut (New York: Simon and Schuster).

After having been a critic, Truffaut decided to make films. He began with the short film Une Visite (1955) and followed it with Les Mistons (1957).

After seeing Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil at the Expo 58, Truffaut made his feature film directorial debut with The 400 Blows (1959), which received considerable critical and commercial acclaim. He won the Best Director award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. The film follows the character of Antoine Doinel through his perilous misadventures in school, an unhappy home life and later reform school. The film is highly autobiographical. Both Truffaut and Doinel were only children of loveless marriages; they both committed petty crimes of theft and truancy from the military. Truffaut cast Jean-Pierre Léaud as Doinel. Léaud was seen as an ordinary boy of 14 who auditioned for the role after seeing a flyer, but interviews after the film’s release (one is included on the Criterion DVD of the film) reveal Léaud’s natural sophistication and an instinctive understanding of acting for the camera. Léaud and Truffaut collaborated on several films over the years. Their most noteworthy collaboration was the continuation of Doinel’s story in a series of films called “The Antoine Doinel Cycle”.

The primary focus of The 400 Blows is Doinel’s life. The film follows him through his troubled adolescence. He is caught in between an unstable parental relationship and an isolated youth. From birth Truffaut was thrown into a troublesome situation. As he was born out of wedlock, his birth had to remain a secret because of the stigma of illegitimacy. He was registered as “a child born to an unknown father” in hospital records and looked after by a nurse for an extended period of time. His mother eventually married and her husband gave François his surname, Truffaut.

Although he was legally accepted as a legitimate child, his parents did not accept him. The Truffauts had another child, who died shortly after birth. This experience saddened them greatly and as a result they despised François because of the regret he represented (Knopf 4[specify]). He was an outcast from his earliest years, dismissed as an unwanted child. François was sent to live with his grandparents. When his grandmother died, his parents took him in, much to his mother’s dismay. His experiences with his mother were harsh. He recalled being treated badly by her but found comfort in his father’s laughter and spirit. François had a very depressing childhood after moving in with his parents. They left him alone when they took vacations. He even recalled being alone during Christmas. Being left alone forced François into independence, often doing various tasks around the house to improve it, such as painting or changing the electric outlets. Sadly, these kind gestures often resulted in catastrophic events, causing him to get scolded by his mother. His father mostly laughed them off.

The 400 Blows marked the beginning of the French New Wave movement, which gave directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette a wider audience. The New Wave dealt with a self-conscious rejection of traditional cinema structure. This was a topic on which Truffaut had been writing for years.

Shoot the Piano Player
Following the success of The 400 Blows, Truffaut featured disjunctive editing and seemingly random voiceovers in his next film, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), starring Charles Aznavour. Truffaut has said that in the middle of filming, he realized that he hated gangsters. But since gangsters were a main part of the story, he toned up the comical aspect of the characters and made the movie more to his liking.

Even though Shoot the Piano Player was much appreciated by critics, it performed poorly at the box office. While the film focused on two of the French New Wave’s favorite elements, American film noir and themselves, Truffaut never again experimented as heavily.

In 1962, Truffaut directed his third movie, Jules and Jim, a romantic drama starring Jeanne Moreau. The film was very popular and highly influential.

In 1963, Truffaut was approached to direct the American film Bonnie and Clyde, with a treatment written by Esquire journalists David Newman and Robert Benton intended to introduce the French New Wave to Hollywood. Although he was interested enough to help in script development, Truffaut ultimately declined, but not before interesting Jean-Luc Godard and American actor and would-be producer Warren Beatty, who proceeded with the film with director Arthur Penn.

The fourth movie Truffaut directed was The Soft Skin (1964), which was not acclaimed on its release.

Fahrenheit 451
Truffaut’s first non-French film was a 1966 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, showcasing Truffaut’s love of books. His only English-speaking film, made on location in England, was a great challenge for Truffaut, because he barely spoke English himself. This was also his first film shot in color by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg. The larger-scale production was difficult for Truffaut, who had worked only with small crews and budgets. The shoot was also strained by a conflict with lead actor Oscar Werner, who was unhappy with his character and stormed off set, leaving Truffaut to shoot scenes using a body double shot from behind. The film was a commercial failure, and Truffaut never worked outside France again. The film’s cult standing has steadily grown, although some critics remain mixed on it as an adaptation.[13] A 2014 consideration of the film by Charles Silver praises it.[14]

Truffaut worked on projects with varied subjects. The Bride Wore Black (1968), a brutal tale of revenge, is a stylish homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock (once again starring Moreau).

Stolen Kisses (1968) was a continuation of the Antoine Doinel Cycle starring Claude Jade as Antoine’s fiancée and later wife Christine Darbon. During its filming Truffaut fell in love with Jade and was briefly engaged to her. It was a big hit on the international art circuit. A short time later Jade made her Hollywood debut in Hitchcock’s Topaz.[15]

Mississippi Mermaid (1969), with Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo, is an identity-bending romantic thriller.

The Wild Child (1970) included Truffaut’s acting debut in the lead role of 18th-century physician Jean Marc Gaspard Itard.

Doinel marries Christine
Bed and Board (1970) was another Antoine Doinel film, also with Jade, now Léaud’s on-screen-wife.

Two English Girls (1971) is the female reflection of the same love story as “Jules et Jim”. It is based on a story by Henri-Pierre Roché, who wrote Jules and Jim, about a man who falls equally in love with two sisters, and their love affair over a period of years.

Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972) was a screwball comedy that was not well received.

Day for Night won Truffaut a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1973. The film is probably his most reflective work. It is the story of a film crew trying to finish a film while dealing with the personal and professional problems that accompany making a movie. Truffaut plays the director of the fictional film being made. This film features scenes from his previous films. It is considered his best film since his earliest work. Time Magazine placed it on its list of 100 Best Films of the Century (along with The 400 Blows).

In 1975, Truffaut gained more notoriety with The Story of Adèle H.; Isabelle Adjani in the title role earned a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress. His 1976 film Small Change was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Man Who Loved Women (1977), a romantic drama, was a minor hit.

Truffaut also appeared in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind as scientist Claude Lacombe.[17]

The Green Room (1978) starred Truffaut in the lead. It was a box-office flop, so he made Love on the Run (1979) starring Léaud and Jade as the final movie of the Doinel Cycle.

One of Truffaut’s final films gave him an international revival. The Last Metro (1980) garnered 12 César Award nominations and 10 wins, including Best Director.

Truffaut’s last film was shot in black and white, giving his career a sense of having bookends. Confidentially Yours is Truffaut’s tribute to his favorite director, Hitchcock. It deals with numerous Hitchcockian themes, such as private guilt versus public innocence, a woman investigating a murder, and anonymous locations.

A keen reader, Truffaut adapted many literary works, including two novels by Henri-Pierre Roché, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Henry James’s “The Altar of the Dead”, filmed as The Green Room, and several American detective novels.

Truffaut’s other films were from original screenplays, co-written by the screenwriters Suzanne Schiffman or Jean Gruault. They featured diverse subjects, the sombre The Story of Adèle H. inspired by the life of the daughter of Victor Hugo, with Isabelle Adjani; Day for Night, shot at the Victorine Studios, depicting the ups and downs of filmmaking; and The Last Metro, set during the German occupation of France during World War II, a film rewarded by ten César Awards.

Known as a lifelong cinephile, Truffaut once (according to the 1993 documentary film François Truffaut: Stolen Portraits) threw a hitchhiker he had picked up out of his car after learning that the hitchhiker didn’t like films.

Many filmmakers admire Truffaut, and tributes to his work have appeared in films such as Almost Famous, Face and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, as well as novelist Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

Truffaut expressed his admiration for filmmakers such as Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Roberto Rossellini, and Alfred Hitchcock. Truffaut wrote Hitchcock/Truffaut, a book about Hitchcock, based on a lengthy series of interviews.

On Jean Renoir, he said: “I think Renoir is the only filmmaker who’s practically infallible, who has never made a mistake on film. And I think if he never made mistakes, it’s because he always found solutions based on simplicity—human solutions. He’s one film director who never pretended. He never tried to have a style, and if you know his work—which is very comprehensive, since he dealt with all sorts of subjects—when you get stuck, especially as a young filmmaker, you can think of how Renoir would have handled the situation, and you generally find a solution”.[19]

In 1973, Jean-Luc Godard accused Truffaut of making a movie that was a “lie” (Day For Night), and Truffaut replied with a 20-page letter in which he accused Godard of being a radical-chic hypocrite, a man who believed everyone to be “equal” in theory only. “The Ursula Andress of militancy—like Brando—a piece of shit on a pedestal.” The two never spoke or saw each other again. However, as noted by Serge Toubiana and Antoine de Baecque in their biography of Truffaut, Godard tried to reconcile their friendship later on, and after Truffaut’s death wrote the introduction to a collection of his letters and a lengthy tribute in his video-essay film Histoire(s) du cinéma.[21]

Truffaut was married to Madeleine Morgenstern from 1957 to 1965, and they had two daughters, Laura (born 1959) and Eva (born 1961). Madeleine was the daughter of Ignace Morgenstern, managing director of one of France’s largest film distribution companies, and was largely responsible for securing funding for Truffaut’s first films.

Truffaut was an inveterate womanizer and had affairs with many of his leading ladies, including Marie-France Pisier (Antoine and Colette, Love on the Run), Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim, The Bride Wore Black), Françoise Dorléac (The Soft Skin), Julie Christie (Fahrenheit 451), Catherine Deneuve (Mississippi Mermaid, The Last Metro), and Jacqueline Bisset (Day for Night). Truffaut also fell for Isabelle Adjani during the filming of The Story of Adele H. but his advances were rebuffed.

In 1968 Truffaut was engaged to actress Claude Jade (Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, Love on the Run); he and Fanny Ardant (The Woman Next Door, Confidentially Yours) lived together from 1981 to 1984 and had a daughter, Joséphine Truffaut (born 28 September 1983).

Truffaut was an atheist, but had great respect for the Catholic Church and requested a mass for his funeral.

In July 1983, Truffaut rented France Gall’s and Michel Berger’s house outside Honfleur, Normandy (composing for Philippe Labro’s film Rive droite, rive gauche) when he had his first stroke and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was expected to attend his friend Miloš Forman’s Amadeus premiere when he died on October 21, 1984, aged 52, at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine in France.

At the time of his death, he had numerous films in preparation. He had intended to make 30 films and then retire to write books for the remainder of his life. He was five films short of that aim.


1959 The 400 Blows Les Quatre Cents Coups Antoine Doinel series
Cannes Film Festival – Best Director
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay[29]
Nominated – Cannes Film Festival – Palme d’Or
1960 Shoot the Piano Player Tirez sur le pianiste
1962 Jules and Jim Jules et Jim Mar del Plata International Film Festival – Best Director
Nominated – Mar del Plata International Film Festival – Best Film
1964 The Soft Skin La Peau douce Nominated – Cannes Film Festival – Palme d’Or
1966 Fahrenheit 451 Fahrenheit 451 Filmed in English
Nominated – Venice Film Festival – Golden Lion
1968 The Bride Wore Black La Mariée était en noir
1968 Stolen Kisses Baisers volés Antoine Doinel series
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film[30]
1969 Mississippi Mermaid La sirène du Mississippi
1970 The Wild Child L’Enfant sauvage
1970 Bed and Board Domicile conjugal Antoine Doinel series
1971 Two English Girls Les Deux anglaises et le continent
1972 Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me Une belle fille comme moi
1973 Day for Night La Nuit américaine Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film[16]
BAFTA Award for Best Film
BAFTA Award for Best Direction
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay[16]
1975 The Story of Adèle H. L’Histoire d’Adèle H. Nominated – César Award for Best Director
1976 Small Change L’Argent de poche Nominated – Berlin International Film Festival – Golden Bear[31]
1977 The Man Who Loved Women L’Homme qui aimait les femmes Nominated – Berlin International Film Festival – Golden Bear[32]
1978 The Green Room La Chambre verte
1979 Love on the Run L’Amour en fuite Antoine Doinel series
Nominated – Berlin International Film Festival – Golden Bear[33]
1980 The Last Metro Le Dernier métro César Award for Best Film
César Award for Best Director
César Award for Best Writing
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film[34]
1981 The Woman Next Door La Femme d’à côté
1983 Confidentially Yours Vivement dimanche! Nominated – César Award for Best Director
Shorts films and collaborations
Year Title Original title Notes
1955 A Visit Une Visite
1957 The Mischief Makers Les Mistons
1958 A Story of Water Une Histoire d’eau Co-directed with Jean-Luc Godard
1961 The Army Game “Tire-au-flanc 62” Directed by Claude de Givray; Truffaut credited as co-director
1962 Antoine and Colette Antoine et Colette Antoine Doinel series, segment from Love at Twenty
Screenwriter only
Year Title Original title Notes
1960 Breathless À bout de souffle Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
1988 The Little Thief La Petite voleuse Directed by Claude Miller
1995 Belle Époque (miniseries) [Wikidata] Belle Époque Miniseries, with Jean Gruault; directed by Gavin Millar
Year Title Role Notes
1956 Le Coup du berger Party guest Uncredited, Directed by Jacques Rivette
1956 La sonate à Kreutzer
1959 The 400 Blows Man in Funfair Uncredited
1963 À tout prendre Himself Uncredited
1964 The Soft Skin Le pompiste Voice, Uncredited
1970 The Wild Child Dr. Jean Itard Lead role
1970 Bed & Board Newspaper vendor Voice, Uncredited
1971 Two English Girls Récitant / Narrator Voice, Uncredited
1972 Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me Un journaliste Voice, Uncredited
1973 Day for Night Ferrand, the film director Lead role
1975 The Story of Adèle H. Officer Uncredited
1976 Small Change Martine’s Father Uncredited
1977 The Man Who Loved Women Man at Funeral Uncredited
1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind Claude Lacombe Directed by Steven Spielberg
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1978 The Green Room Julien Davenne Lead role
1981 The Woman Next Door Cameo Uncredited
Producer only
Year Title Original title Notes
1958 Good Anna Anna your mam Directed by Harry Kümel
1960 Testament of Orpheus Le testament d’Orphée Directed by Jean Cocteau
1961 The Gold Bug Le scarabée d’or Directed by Robert Lachenay
1961 Paris Belongs to Us Paris nous appartient Directed by Jacques Rivette
1968 Naked Childhood L’Enfance Nue Directed by Maurice Pialat
Les 400 Coups (1960) with M. Moussy (English translation: The 400 Blows)
Le Cinéma selon Alfred Hitchcock (1967, second edition 1983) (English translation: Hitchcock and Hitchcock/Truffaut with the collaboration of Helen G. Scott)
Les Aventures d’Antoine Doinel (1970) (English translation: Adventures of Antoine Doinel; translated by Helen G. Scott)
Jules et Jim (film script) (1971) (English translation: Jules and Jim; translated by Nicholas Fry)
La Nuit américaine et le Journal de Fahrenheit 451 (1974)
Le Plaisir des yeux (1975)
L’Argent de poche (1976) (English title: Small change: a film novel; translated by Anselm Hollo)
L’Homme qui aimait les femmes (1977)
Les Films de ma vie (1981) (English translation: Films in my life; translated by Leonard Mayhew)
Correspondance (1988) (English translation: Correspondence, 1945–1984; translated by Gilbert Adair)
Le Cinéma selon François Truffaut (1988) edited by Anne Gillain
Belle époque (1996) with Jean Gruault
See also
François Truffaut Award
Paris Belongs to Us
Two in the Wave, a 2010 documentary film about Truffaut’s relationship with Jean-Luc Godard
La Cinémathèque Française offered a full retrospective and exhibition of Truffaut’s work in 2014-2015