French New wave, Tirez sur le pianiste(1960) Formal Analysis


New member
I encourage everyone not to plagerise, because if you do? you're only cheating your self. Use this as an example of a semi-decent paper lol. I think I got a B- on it.... anyway.. here you go.

Michael-Anthony Pxxxxxx

FMST 212/3 Film Aesthetics
Section B

Tirez sur le pianiste
Analysis of formal properties that create shifts in tone, mood, and rhythm/pacing.

Presented to:
Donato Txxxxxx

January 4, 2006

The French New Wave film Tirez sur le Pianiste(1960), by Francois Truffault, features a man and his unfortunate life. Charlie Kohler, also known as Edouard Saroyan, is a virtuoso piano player who turned one day to a simple bar gig player. The film introduces the viewer to Charlie only after the introduction of his brother Chico. His brother and his involvement with the two hatchet men, Momo and Ernest, are the cause for Charlie’s unfortunate loss of his second known love Léna. Though this is the true cause for Léna’s death, it almost seems that as Edouard Saroyan, success in life, would cause the death of his significant others. I will be analysing and exploring camera movement, and editing from the key scenes which display the greatest shifts of moods, tone, and rhythm.

The film begins with a shot of a dark street with a car chasing Chico.(0:01:23) After running around a few corners Chico hits a light post and falls down. The repetitive cutting and rapid panning shots make it look like he is in dire trouble. After hitting the lamppost and passing out, Chico is awoken by a kind gentleman going home with flowers for his wife. At this point we think that it could be the people chancing Chico which discover him but, to his luck, it is not. The mood shifts from a tense feeling to relaxing one. The passer-by and Chico are walking down the street calmly, and Truffaut has decided to slow things down by having a long take.(0:02:23) This long take consists of the camera dollying back at a slight angle, facing the actors screen right, which fallows the pace of the two men. They stop three times during their little walk momentarily to talk about serious truths regarding the subject of conversation and then continue. These planned pauses also add a sense of genuine truth in how the man feels until finally, they depart, and Chico runs off.(0:04:18) Continuing with one more pan, now screen right to left, the shot cuts and reveals the tavern where Charlie, Chico’s brother, is playing piano at. After Chico notices the sign outside announcing Charlie, he decides to walk in.(0:04:39)

Later in this scene, the mood shifts over from crime/suspense to comedy. The switch occurs when Chico begins to hackle his brother for the fact that he is playing in a tavern and not in front of a concert piano.(0:08:00) The shot cuts once Chico grabs Mammy, Plyne’s ex-wife, and starts to dance with her, the camera stays in constant motion fallowing Chico and Mammy while Chico asks her to marry her. Truffaut continues to cut from person to person mostly giving a sense of the environment. The most comedic action happens when Clarisse gets slapped and Chico shoves the man to the ground and everyone around them think nothing of it.(0:09:33) Here we have a premonition of what might happen since allot of attention is put on Clarisse and this man dancing. We first notice this when the camera shows them doing this little “dance” and then tracking right with a slight dolly back to include Chico in the frame in the foreground. The shot cuts to two men talking about the women in the tavern while ,in turn, cutting three times to show us what they are talking about. Then one of the men points out Clarisse dancing, the shot cuts again and gives us a slow tilt up, showing Clarisse’s womanly figure. Clarisse pushes the man one last time, she gets slapped and Chico intervenes.

We notice the next change in mood, and tone, after when Momo and Ernest finally find Chico. It comes obvious with a tight close-up of Charlie’s face telling him to get out by the back. The shot cuts, and the camera pans to the right showing them run out, and then cuts again, and Charlie throws down the cases of booze.(0:09:57) Then the singer quickly calms down the action with his song Avanie et Framboise.

After that scene of singing, there is a dissolve to later on in the night. The tavern is now empty, and Léna is leaving. The mood goes back to melodrama since Plyne talks to Charlie about his feelings for Léna.(0:12:37) More importantly, the tone is realized when Charlie and Léna are walking together away from the tavern.(0:14:18) This sequence begins with a backwards tracking shot at an angle. Then slows down pans right with the actors and stops completely to reveal Plyne peaking through the window. The shot cuts and is now dollying back with the actors walking in the street. The shot continues to cut to show Charlie trying to grab Léna’s hand and alternates from the front, to the back. The mood lightens after Charlie thinks to him self, and then makes a funny face, but quickly reverts to crime/suspense when Léna notices the two gangsters behind them.(0:15:38) The shot cuts, shows the two behind then, then reverts back to Charlie and Léna and they run off. It cuts to a dark alley and pans to left, then tilts up with the actors. The rapid movement heightens the suspense. They elude the gangsters and continue walking. In this shot, the camera dollies into Charlie to bring us closer to his thoughts. Once Charlie finally decides to ask Léna for a drink, the camera dollies back to reveal that she has left while he was thinking.(0:16:36) With these slight camera movements in this continuous shot, Truffaut created a comedic event.

The fallowing scene with Clarisse and Charlie sleeping together continues with the comedic feeling until the next scene when the gangsters take Charlie in their car to go see Chico. The gangsters, in them selves, are comedic elements, not fitting the usually profile of tuff guys. After Fido, Charlie’s little brother, throws the bottle of milk on the gangster’s car, they pick Charlie up. The shot starts inside the car until the two gangsters get out of the car, then cuts to the exterior of the car to get a better perspective of Momo, wanting to show Charlie his gun.(0:23:10) The shot cuts to the a far shot of the car, then dissolves to the conversations in the car, driving around town to pick up Léna. The comedy continues while the two gangsters talk about women. Multiple shots of the car moving fast leads up to Momo getting distracted with all the conversation and Léna forcing the car to run a red light.(0:27:46) The sequence of shots is tens due to the situation they are in, and also the rapid cutting from the car, the gas peddle being stepped on franticly, and the sideways shot of cars moving in the street. They get pulled over by a cop, and Léna and Charlie get away.

One of the most dramatic scenes happens here, after evading the gangsters. Léna decides to bring Charlie back to her place and as they are walking in she surprises him with a poster of an old concert Charlie had once played at as Edouard Saroyan. Here the mood goes from light heartedness to bad thoughts of the past, with an overlay at half opacity of himself playing the concert and then a dissolve to his face looking sad and a faded circular wipe starting on his face outwards.(0:29:30) This series of effects illustrates the sadness that will fallow of this flash-back and some of the trouble he has tried to forget. The light heartedness, at first, is kept with a circular wipe outwards to another time in the past, then a dissolves to events leading up to his meeting with Lars Schmeel. In the shots where Charlie is going to meet Lars Schmeel, Truffaut decided to have a long fallowing shot starting from the stairs with a pan left, then with a backwards tracking shot until finally finding the door. The camera pans left and tilts up slightly, and cuts to the Charlie looking at the door, then cuts again to a close up of Charlie’s face, then cuts to see Charlie attempting to open the door, but then decides to ring the bell. The shots keep cutting closer and closer to the doorbell about to be rung until the door opens and the lady playing the violin steps out.(0:33:02) This series of shots was depicting the proverbial “I can show you the door, but you have to choose to go through it.” Then once the lady walks away, she begins to hear Edouard playing the piano, and she knows that she’s missed her chance, and just gave it up to him. After making some success with his music, Charlie is faced with problems in his marriage. The ultimate challenge happens when Thérèse admits to sleeping with Lars Schmeel.(0:41:00) The closer and closer Thérèse is about to admit it to Charlie, the closer and closer the camera cuts. Finally, she says it and the camera pans from her to Charlie’s face of disappointment. The camera cuts to a medium-long shot and Thérèse continues to explain. She walks towards the right side of the frame and the camera pans over to capture the details. The camera cuts and continues to pan with Thérèse until leaving Charlie with a choice of staying with her or leaving. The camera cuts to Charlie, and he walks out the door. Then it cuts to the exterior hallway, panning left and quickly pans back right to fallow Charlie running back in the room just to notice that Thérèse has jumped out the window.(0:43:42)

The scene fallows with a similar half opacity/dissolve transition to further in time where Charlie is starting to work at Plyne’s tavern. Léna explains what resulted from playing the piano and her infatuation with Charlie, to finally dissolve to a sequence depicting the two making love.(0:46:00) The sequence, in essence, is one long pan to the left with cross dissolves to finally end panning at the two in bed. Then it cuts to Léna with Charlie in the foreground, talking about her liking Charlie and what they thought about stuff that’s happened. There are five dissolves to them being and or getting comfortable together in bed to show how much they love each other and then the scene fades to black.(0:47:16) The scene fades back in the next day showing Charlie happy again and before Charlie leaves Léna’s home she asks him to tell her when he doesn’t love her anymore.

Later during that day, Momo and Ernest decide to go and kidnap Fido. They first attempt when Fido is getting out of school, but miss, and then they finally catch him when he is at home for supper with Clarisse. What is interesting in this scene is when Momo distracts Clarisse by asking her to do a little job. The shot cuts to the stair way, showing both apartment doors. They walk into Clarisse’s apartment. The shot cuts to a further shot of the same door, and Momo runs out and locks Clarisse in to permit them selves to kidnap Fido.(0:51:34) This little event happens very rapidly, thus the shots are short and many.

Drama continues with Léna’s verbal fight with Plyne in the bar. This leads to Charlie intervening and putting a knife to his back.(0:54:54) Their fight was consistent in action with the two, Charlie and Plyne, running out of the bar, while the camera is panning and tilting to fallow them. Straight cuts are used to show them at different positions in the tavern and the alley. The crime film element is more evident now, seeing that Charlie is now a criminal for Murdering Plyne by accident. Truffaut decided to make a dark undertone by simply keeping everything at night.

The final comedic scene happens when the gangsters are talking about the articles of clothing they are wearing and accessories. The editing in this scene helps in the gag when Ernest swears on his mother’s head that what he is saying is true, and fallowing that statement with a shot of his mother dying, since he is not telling the truth.(1:00:40)

Nearing the end of the film, Charlie and Léna take a car and drive up to Charlie’s family house to leave him there until the heat cools down on his situation. During their drive they listen to a song and all the shots dissolve into each other further along in their drive during that song.(1:05:25) While at the house his brothers, Chico and Richard, leave him to keep guard while they sleep. In the morning, Léna comes back to tell Charlie that his name has been cleared and it’s safe to come back. Moments later Momo and Ernest arrive at the house and open fire. Léna gets caught in the cross fire and dies. It is evident that Léna is going to get shot due to the build up. First sign of her death is the church bells tolling right after a shot of her. The camera cuts to show the gangsters driving up to the house, they get out with Fido, and Fido runs away. After they open fire, we see Léna screaming for Charlie and then she begins to run right, the camera pans in circles to fallow her then he cuts to Momo spinning his gun, then cuts to a long shot of Momo, the camera tilts up and pans left to Léna and Momo shoots her. The shot cuts again to what looks to be the same location at where Léna was standing and tilts down and pans right to catch Charlie’s reaction. Charlie runs out, the shot cuts, and Léna is sliding down the side of the hill. The camera tilts down to fallow her. The shot cuts one last time to see her stop closer up to show that she is dead.(1:15:21) Charlie eventually runs out to her with Fido to get to Léna. The last shot of Léna is a zoom in, made in post production. Then the shot desolves back to the tavern to show Charlie back to playing his same old gig.

In conclusion, Francois Truffaut uses some editing to his advantage to build up pacing and create different moods through the film. Camera movements are also evident in most of the comedy that transpire through the film and also is amply used for the build-up of pace, mood, and tone. Some of the camera movements most used were pans, tilts and dollies. For editing, due to the period it was made it, cuts, dissolves and wipes were used as transitions in time and to keep people interested in what they were watching. Although the film used more then just these two formal properties, it also contained many more of which are strong in the film. Tirez sur le Pianiste is definitely a great film that combines some of the best elements of comedy, melodrama, and the crime film.

Word Count: 2454


New member
Sorry, I didn't read all of it and I reckon I should, I may have some opinion on your paper, since you're analysing a french film, but, and I'm sorry to point something out about english grammar but, should not be written "follow" instead of "fallow" ?



New member
exacly why I didnt really get a good grade... I'm bilingual... so the 2 languages that I know invade each other, thus making me half good in each....

its a real bummer