The Soft Skin Criterion Collection Blu-ray review
Over the opening credits, her hands wrap into and around his. They have the soft skin of the title, and they will prove fateful to his life as a man, husband and father.
Prominent literary editor Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly, Jean-Pierre Melville’s LE DOULOS) is headed out of the country on business. When he arrives, he’s greeted by a lovely flight attendant, Nicole (Françoise Dorléac, the older sister of Catherine Deneuve). During the flight, he passes part of the time watching her heels move behind the curtain. At the hotel, he sees her again in the lobby and, later, the elevator. He phones her room and asks if she’d like to meet for a drink. She turns him down, but calls back and agrees. When she does, a fantastical portion of the score begins.
The next night, they share drinks into the night, well past closing time. When the waiter stops serving, they go up to the room. For the time, it doesn’t matter to Pierre that he is married to Franca (Nelly Benedetti, THE MAN FROM RIO, which co-starred Jean-Paul Belmondo) and has a young daughter (Sabine Haudepin, who played Jules and Catherine’s daughter in François Truffaut’s JULES AND JIM and would go on to have roles in the director’s THE LAST METRO). Even when he’s home with them, he can’t get his mind off Nicole.
At the time of its release, THE SOFT SKIN (LA PEAU DOUCE in its native French) was seen as a failure compared to Truffaut’s first three features, 1959’s THE 400 BLOWS, 1960’s SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER and 1962’s JULES AND JIM. Perhaps that is because the characters aren’t as colorful, the tone isn’t as lively and the cinematography (by Raoul Cotard, who also notably collaborated with Jean-Luc Godard) is more restrained. But the film is a terrific piece of work, certainly worthy of inclusion among the director’s best.
THE SOFT SKIN shows how consuming an affair can be. It doesn’t try to encourage or promote Pierre’s behavior, but rather show the temporary life of a married professional who, no matter how good his home life is, simply wants something fresh. Of course, it gets deeper than that as the film goes on, with the viewer wondering if there will be any repercussions, but it’s quite exquisite in the lead-up.
Much of what makes THE SOFT SKIN works lies in the performances. Desailly gives an honest turn that shows a man divided and ultimately unsure of where his life should go. Dorléac, meanwhile, delivers a relatively layered turn; at times she is so alluring, at times so fragile. (Dorléac was killed in a car accident in 1967 at the age of 25. In addition to Truffaut, her short career also found her working with greats like Jacque Demy and Roman Polanski.)
THE SOFT SKIN was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, the year Demy’s THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG took the top prize.
Video: 1.67:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative at Digimage in Paris, where the film was also restored.”
THE SOFT SKIN looks excellent in this high-definition presentation, with a picture that cleans up the damage and scratches but maintains the filmic look. Details are fine and contrast is good.
Audio: French Mono. Subtitles in English. “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm magnetic track. Clicks, thumps hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 4.”
The audio is without flaw and boasts crisp dialogue and a clean Georges Delerue score.
Audio commentary by screenwriter Jean-Louis Richard and François Truffaut scholar Serge Toubiana: Richard reflects on his collaborations and working relationship with Truffaut, while Toubiana offers more scholarly insights.
The Complexity of Influence (11:43): Film critic Kent Joes discusses the many influences on Truffaut, with special attention paid to the works of Alfred Hitchcock.
MONSIEUR TRUFFAUT MEETS MR. HITCHCOCK (29:41): This fascinating 1999 documentary offers a look at the four-year making of Truffaut’s interview book Hitchcock.
Truffaut on THE SOFT SKIN (10:51): In this excerpt from the French television series CINEASTES DE NOTRE TEMPS, Truffaut discusses various aspects of THE SOFT SKIN.
Also include with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by critic Molly Haskell.