Diverging is the first word that comes into mind after having seen François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player. The word in itself often brings to mind confusion and bewilderment, but this is not the case with Truffaut's film even though it is refreshingly surprising and innovative. The story presents one idea that delivers a new concept that becomes the parent of another fresh notion. A continual flow of new impressions allows the viewer to reflect for a brief second on the current state while awaiting the next sensation. Nothing is constant, as the story continuously provides new information, which after awhile begins to support itself in order to help generate different a thought altogether, as two different ideas converge where a third and unlikely concept emerges. Eventually the massive amount of thoughts delivers a complete and exhaustive idea - the show must go on.
Truffaut opens with the inside of a piano clinking away on a joyful tune. The massive number of keystrokes on the piano ultimately delivers the upbeat melody from the inside, which serves like a reminder to the audience about the complexity of a melody that rests in a large number of basic sounds. It could also analogously direct the viewer in to the concept of how basic elements in a series could present a rather complex idea, which the film also does in multiple levels. The inside of the piano could also symbolize the inside of a person, as people can talk about how they feel inside, and on occasion, the feelings emerge through actions. In either case, the complete truth might never appear, as a person has the power to decide what they say, or show through their actions. There are also moments when the spoken words conflict with the actions, yet life continues to run its course towards its unavoidable doom.
A jump cut, much used by Godard in his brilliant Breathless (1960) to save money, moves the audience from the piano to a man escaping something in the middle of the Parisian night. The scene provides a sense of urgency together through a number of intriguing camera angles that accentuate the stress until the man slams into a streetlight. The sudden stop provides an inspirational flash, as it surprises the audience while the question lingers in the air - from what is the man running. Consequently, a stranger appears and helps him up. Again, Truffaut astonishes the audience, as the stranger and the man begin an amusingly interesting conversation about relationships with women. However, the chase is not over, as the man continues his running escape until he arrives to a local bar where his brother Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour) works as a piano player.
Besides the scurrying getaway, the audience quickly learns that there is something mischievous in the works, as the man addresses his brother Edouard. However, for the viewer to guess will only get the audience in the wrong direction, as Truffaut intentionally uses visual syntax and signs in a deceptive manner. Everything that Truffaut does in the film breaks against the traditional visual narrative, which helps bring out the original experience that rests within the story. For example, Charlie, or should we call him Edouard, refuses to help his brother who is in deep trouble with a couple of pipe smoking gangsters. It also should be noted that the pipe is often one of the tools to symbolize the law enforcement such as Sherlock Holmes. Nonetheless, Charlie aids his brother in his escape, as his words also conflict with his actions.
In the process of helping his brother, Charlie ends up in trouble himself and he brings his neighbor Clarisse (Michèle Mercier) into the mess, as he sleeps with Clarisse almost every night. During the days, she takes care of his much younger brother Fido while she finds time in-between to make a living as a prostitute. Truffaut also provides a positive view of the oldest profession in the world, which also conflicts the cinematic norm of the time. At the same time, Charlie desires to approach Lena (Marie Dubois) who works as a barmaid at the same bar he plays the piano. While courting Lena more of Charlie's past surfaces, especially information in regards to his ex-wife Therese (Nicole Berger) comes forward in an extended flashback. After countless unexpected turns the film eventually will draw towards its end, as the story has many times circled the important aspects of life while never truly stated what is significant in life.
It is evident that Truffaut had a soft spot for film noir and gangster films, as he was also an expert on Hitchcock. He even published a book on Hitchcock. The gangster element is prevalent in Shoot the Piano Player, but it is far from the only important aspect in the film. Truffaut also touches on several issues that were important to him such as relationships and freedom. However, he does not continue in the same light, as filmmakers before him, as he bends and purposely breaks the many indoctrinated rules of cinema from before the 1950s. It is within the cinematic rebelliousness much of the diverging characteristics emerge, as Truffaut prompts a large number of ideas that at times seem to go wandering aimlessly. This directionless impression converges into new ideas that help strengthen the artistic perspective of the film. Ultimately, it allows the viewer to enter an utterly unique visual experience that will play with the audience's preconceived notions and assumptions, which will both intrigue and entertain those who desire something beyond the ordinary even though the film is over 50-years old.