Shoot the Piano Player (1960) Poster

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My favourite film.
the red duchess26 June 2001
'Shoot the Pianist' opens with the insides of a playing piano, the inner machinations of a musical instrument. This image points to the film's ambiguity. it says that this film will similarly uncover the insides (heart, soul) of a man who gives nothing away on the surface. it will suggest that his insides are like the piano's insides, the the only way he can express what's buried inside of him is through piano-playing - this is what gives the film its emotional pull. but it also suggests that Charlie Koller's fatal emotional timidity has warped or deadened that soul, made it a mere mechanism, alive only in a technical sense. More objectively, it amounts to a manifesto for Truffaut's intentions with the film, the way he will turn the gangster genre inside out, a genre he confessed to not really liking.

Although Truffaut would go on to make self-conscious and superficial tributes to his hero (e.g. 'La Peau Douce', 'The Bride Wore Black'), 'Shoot the Pianist' is his most Hitchcockian film. Most obviously, it is a reworking of 'Vertigo', the story of a homme fatal (Koller - black widower?) who kills two women because he couldn't say the right thing, because he behaved like a man should, rather than the way he really feels. Lena is in effect a reincarnation of his dead wife, a woman who wants to reinstate his 'original' identity. Like Scottie Ferguson, Charlie is a man paralysed by memory, shellshocked by his experiences with an elusive love that could so easily have been his.

But, again like 'Vertigo', 'Pianist' is the study of masculine identity and its dissolution. When we first see Charlie he is literally in a scrapheap, getting dressed in front of a mirror. This mirror motif recurs throughout, and with it the question: who is Charlie Koller? The farmboy sibling of gangsters; the renowned pianist; the back-room tinkler; the father to his young brother; the man who desires but cannot ask, who keeps destructively pulling back? Throughout the real 'man' is deluged by different names, images (posters, paintings), stories etc. about himself: his own personality is divided by the talks he conducts with himself. Even the heartbreaking flashback sequence about his past is related to him by someone else. In the fear of losing his identity, of giving himself in union, Charlie loses everything.

But 'Pianist' is also reminiscent of early, British Hitchcock films like 'The 39 Steps' and 'Young and Innocent', in its playful irreverence with genre. David Thomson has said it was a film Laurence Sterne might have made, and, like 'Tristam Shandy', like those Hitchcock movies, the main genre narrative is frequently broken off by digressions and bits of business. The film plunges us in media res in the gangster genre, a man being chased in the obscurity. He bangs into a lamppost, and is helped by a passer-by. They start talking about marriage. This is emblematic of the film as a whole - a gangster film that keeps stopping to talk about love, women, family, music, the past etc. When the genre kicks in again - Chico (gangster name, yes, but Marx Brother too) rushes into his brother's bar, the tension is somewhat undermined by the comedy bar-room singer bouncing to the cymbals. When Charlie and Lena are kidnapped by the two hoods, a fraught situation turns into an hilarious banter about women and dirty old men. the most frightening sequence - the abduction of young Fido - provokes the funniest scene, where captor and captive debate the authenticity of the former's Japanese metal scarf.

But the film works the other way too, when the comic unexpectedly flashes into the tragic. In an early scene, Charlie agonises to himself about the proper etiquette to be used in handling Lena - this is a touching, sad scene, but full of the comedy of embarrassment. Suddenly, having dithered so long, Charlie realises she's gone. The scrunched pain on his face is devastating.

'Pianist' is my favourite film. For Charles Aznavour's performance, the embodiment of shy timidity leading to emotional paralysis, and my altar ego. For the Godardian style, mixing abrupt, immediate, hand-held location shooting, and natural sound excitement, with a grasp of mise-en-scene worthy of the great 1950s melodramatists (the framing, cutting characters off from one another, trapping them in their decor; or the elaborate, Ophulsian camerawork, such as the 'Le Plaisir' gliding outside the bar; the circular narrative that sees continuity tragically affirmed in the shape of the new waitress). 'Pianist' couldn't have been made without Melville's 'Bob le Flambeur', and its flippancy and humanising of genre, but the influence of this on Cassavetes, Penn, Scorcese etc. was immense, for its generosity to all its characters, showing, despite Eustache, that a good woman can be a maman and putain. For the comic chutzpah, the dazzling abduction scene, the triptych revealing the boss's betrayal, the clumsy murder, the wonderfully bumbling hoods, Fido's Hawksian little dance. For Truffaut's concern with time and decay and art. For the haunting scene with the cello girl. For the music, fulfilling Noel Coward's dictum about the potency of cheap music, giving this short, strange movie its generous soul, a film that so humanely departs from genre it makes the generic climax grotesque, a DW Griffith nightmare in blinding white.
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French gangster thriller that hits all the right notes
The_Void26 October 2004
Shoot the Pianist is Francois Truffaut's attempt at mirroring the greatness of the classic gangster films. And suffice to say; it is a very nice attempt indeed. The film follows Charlie Kohler, a simple bar-side piano player. Charlie's life takes a turn for the more exciting one day when his brother turns up at the bar, telling his brother that a couple of gangsters that he and his other brother cheated out of their side of the loot from a job that the four did together are after him. Charlie also has a secret admirer; Lena, a barmaid at the bar he works in. Now this once simple piano player has gone from a quiet life at a piano to having to deal with gangsters, his brothers and a new love interest. But wait...there's more; is Charlie all that he seems? Is he merely a simple piano player? That's what makes this film great; it's never black and white (if you'll excuse the pun), and it is always ready to throw in another plot turn to keep you guessing.

After the universally acclaimed "The 400 Blows", Francois Truffaut had his work cut out for his next movie. Many will disagree, but I actually think he surpassed it. The 400 Blows is undoubtedly a more important work; but this film hits more of the right notes and is very much more enjoyable. The cast is absolutely flawless throughout; Charles Aznavour stars in the lead role. He gets his characterization spot on; his melancholy comes naturally and is believable throughout. Marie Debois and Nicole Berger star alongside Aznavour, and although they are more in the background; they still manage to impress. There is also a role here for Michèle Mercier, whom you may remember from the Mario Bava masterpiece; Black Sabbath. Truffaut's cinematography is clean and crisp and the film is an aesthetic treat throughout. Despite being nearly 45 years old, the film also manages to retain a feeling of freshness, and that's something that not all crime thrillers of today can do after 4 years, let alone 45. Truffaut has also very obviously got an astute sense of humour - there's one part of the film involving one of the gangster's mother's dropping dead that made me laugh out loud. Let it never be said that the French can't be funny

The film features many anecdotes that ring true. My personal favourite is when Lena says that what you do today becomes a part of you tomorrow. It's simple, but very astute. Another good one is when one of the gangsters talks about all the lovely gadgets he has, and after listing them all he finishes with; "I'm bored". Truffaut obviously knows that material goods aren't what make people happy, and this film presents a rather amusing way of showing that. However, despite these and several other anecdotes; the film doesn't appear to have a defining point, which lessens its impact somewhat. Overall, however, Shoot the Pianist is a lovely little film that shouldn't be missed by anyone that professes to like gangster movies. It's amusing, has some points to make and its flawlessly acted and directed. Highest recommendations for this one.
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One of Truffaut's best
MovieAddict201621 October 2004
François Truffaut's second feature, Tirez sur le pianiste, is a deliberately wild and chaotic satire of the American gangster pictures of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Truffaut tried to make Tirez sur le pianiste, or Shoot the Pianist, the complete opposite of his first picture, The 400 Blows, doing away with the sentimentality of the predecessor and making his second feature far more vicious, nonlinear and, occasionally, quite funny.

Based off of a pulp novel by David Goodis, the movie is about a once-famous piano player (Charles Aznavour) who gives up looking for the reason his wife left him, and now plays piano in a run-down Paris bar where he falls for a waitress, and must overcome his natural shyness in order to express his love for her. Unfortunately his brother gets him involved in a gangland feud, which gives the story an unnecessary (but welcomed) edge to the romance.

There are some highly amusing scenes, such as when Charles and his soon-to-be-girlfriend walk down a Paris sidewalk and he contemplates what to say, do, and how to act, without offending her or making a fool out of himself. We hear Charles' neurotic thoughts in voice-over – an effect now overused in cinema but back in 1960, very new. It wasn't until the intrusion of Woody Allen comedies such as Annie Hall that sporadic first-person narratives became popular – in the noir movies of the earlier decades voice-overs were sometimes used by narrators (such as in the cult classic Detour) but never in such a way as Shoot the Pianist's. It's one of the best scenes in the movie, and a great way of expressing the inner-workings of Charles, the character.

Shoot the Pianist's chaotic structure confused and overwhelmed many audiences when the film was released in 1960. Its content (violence, nudity, etc.) was not as welcomed by audiences as it is now, and as a result the film was a financial and critical failure. The humor was not appreciated, the insightful look at a French Everyman was not even noticed – it was ruled out as a dud, and that's all that mattered to anyone.

Over the years it has picked up a rather small cult following and fans of Truffaut's films have declared it to be one of his best pictures. Looking back now in light of such recent gangster genre hybrids such as Reservoir Dogs and Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Truffaut's movie not only seems more understandable but far ahead of its time. In relation to Reservoir Dogs it contains the same sort of standard, everyday nonchalance in accordance with gangsters – while it contains the narrative flow of Guy Ritchie's British gangster cult hit.

Regardless of how brilliant Shoot the Pianist seems forty years later, Truffaut was scarred by the negative press surrounding his second feature and never made another movie as daring (so to speak) or, more likely, downright fun as Tirez sur le pianiste. It's a very amusing movie, and it is one of the few 1960s films that doesn't seem dated compared to the film-making standards of modern-day Hollywood. The performances are flawless, the characters likable and realistic, the movie overall highly enjoyable and worth seeing more than just once. It is sadly one of Truffaut's most underrated movies, although hopefully in another forty years it will only be all the more appreciated for its qualities.

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Classic, inspired film-making
wooodenelephant30 July 2007
Francois Truffaut was a film critic for the magazine Cahiers du cinéma. He was disenchanted with what he saw as a lack of originality and honesty in contemporary cinema. He developed the theory of the auteur in cinema - an idiosyncratic force such as his hero Hitchcock rather than a 'civil servant of the cinema'.

His motivation for entering the cinema was to make films which he, and others like him, wanted to see and which then didn't exist. Cinema with breadth and imagination, which took risks and broke rules. The zest and vitality of his vision is still evident so many years on.

After his impeccable full -length debut, Les Quatre Cents Coups (aka The 400 Blows), which was a slice of life / coming of age tale, Truffaut took a completely different subject matter for this second feature. The source novel is 'Down There', typical US pulp fiction by the little known David Goodis. Its a tale of crime set in seedy locations with a graceless linear plot. Obviously its the way the filmmakers use this source that makes Tirez Sur Le Pianiste the film it is.

Charles Aznavour, a mainstream celebrity in France, is the bizarre but perfect choice for the lead role of Charlie Kohler. His passive, indifferent demeanour makes him an anti-hero of a different kind to Cagney or Brando - one who is ineffective in either solving or preventing crime. This minor cinematic tradition I see as continuing with John Klute in Klute (1971), Marlowe in The Long Goodbye (1973), reaching its comical apex with The Dude in The Big Lebowski (1998).

Not, in fact, that Charlie has to solve any crimes. He is simply out to save his skin - and those of his brothers. His life is in danger throughout the film yet he is more preoccupied with whether or not he should take the arm of the attractive waitress Lena (Marie Dubois) from the dive where he plays the piano, as he walks her home in a scene that is a perfect marriage of its imagery and internal monologue. It is this kind of juxtaposition of themes (threat to life and romantic shyness) which makes this film such compelling and unpredictable viewing.

The film opens with a charming conversation about the secrets of a happy marriage, spoken by a character we never see again who simply runs into Charlie's brother Chico (Albert Rémy) - who is the catalyst for the 'plot'. The throwaway conversations are really more important to the creative spirit of the film than any of the plot's major concerns. This trend continues with the characters of Ernest and Momo, the pursuing heavies. Though evidently dangerous men, they speak tangentially on a range of subjects (mostly women, though) which cannot help but remind a modern audience of Tarantino's hit men in Pulp Fiction. Indeed much of what I said about Truffaut - how he was compelled to make rule-changing cinema that he and others wanted to see - could of course equally be applied to Tarantino.

The centrepiece of the film goes back to Charlie' past where he was a classical concert pianist. This beautiful vignette explains to us why Charlie is in the pits now. Nicole Berger as Thérèse Saroyan, Charlie's wife absolutely owns this part of the film. This section also features the celebrated and beautiful sequence where the camera chooses to follow a female violinist from the door of an apartment and out into the courtyard. Why? Just for the sake of artistic freedom, it seems.

As well as Aznavour and Berger, the casting is uniformly perfect. Claude Mansard and Daniel Boulanger as the waffling heavies, Marie Dubois as the sweet, maternal young waitress Léna, Michèle Mercier as a tart with a heart with a body to die for (bringing the total of female 'leads' to three!), Serge Davri and Catherine Lutz as Charlie's antagonistic and ultimately tragic employers. The obscure threesome (the latter two brothers have their only major film roles here) of Albert Rémy, Jean-Jacques Aslanian and the young Richard Kanayan are brilliantly effective as Charlie's brothers, all of whom display varying degrees of the criminal element - the 'curse' of Charlie and his family. Early on in the film there is also a terrifically amusing song (complete with karaoke-style lyrics) performed by Boby Lapointe, a real-life Parisian entertainer.

For all its wealth of ideas, though, this is generally not a pacey movie. Its pace is as laidback as Charlie himself at times. But with patience this will reward the audience with all kinds of unexpected delights.
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A mix of comedy and tragedy
charchuk2 December 2007
It doesn't feel like a typical Truffaut film - though I've only seen two others from his filmography - in that it's as stylish and self-reflexive as a Godard film. I had got the sense that Truffaut was more 'conventional' in his films, and this one certainly went against it. Not that I'm complaining, though - it's probably the funniest New Wave flick that I've seen. There are loads of little comic moments that reminded me of the modern British comedies - stuff like Snatch and Shaun of the Dead - that I love. But it's also got a dark edge, and not in the black comedy sense. It's pretty depressing, and that's where it fits in line with Truffaut's other films. It's not the relatively light-hearted depression of Godard's films, it's full-fledged tragedy. However, the combination of drama and comedy doesn't always mesh well, as it rarely does for me, and the characters seem too short-changed to justify such an ending. Still, it's very witty and fairly entertaining.
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Remarkably enjoyable and fresh
daustin17 December 2000
Sometimes you watch a classic for the first time and you don't understand the hype. This time I was more than pleasantly surprised. Wonderful, whimsical and sad little film noir. This movie completely plays with the audience, but in a loving way. The actors and actresses are almost uniformly great. Some incredible faces. Aznavour in particular has an amazingly distinctive look. Be warned, it takes about ten minutes to have an idea of what is going on. Just hang in there and go with it. Highly recommend.
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Hit and miss
faraaj-19 November 2006
I read mixed reviews about this film - some interesting elements but it doesn't work completely as a whole. Having seen it recently, I would tend to agree with these comments. Shoot the Piano Player is about a famous piano player who falls in love with and loses two women who care for him. After the death of the first, his wife, he changes his name and becomes a piano player in an obscure bar where he meets the second love of his life, a waitress. There are some sub-plots regarding his criminal brothers, the kidnapping of his son and the bar-owner also falling for the same waitress.

There are very interesting individual scenes - interesting, not brilliant. On the whole, the film is a mish-mash of ideas and plots, all told very confusingly. Even if the narration had been more coherent, another problem is the visual look. There are noir themes in the narrative, but the visual style is in no way reminiscent of those films. It is more rooted in realism but has the visual look of a TV film.

I don't know! I'm still confused by this film...
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*** 1/2 out of ****
kyle_c19 December 2002
Truffaut's homage to the American gangster film stars Charles Aznavour as a smalltime piano player in a bar who has a secret past that he keeps hidden. The film almost falls into the trap of not being an homage to the gangster film, but rather being one itself. What saves it is the film's unique wit and charm - it's a blend of humor, romance, and gangster film. The gangsters themselves are quite funny, casually discussing everyday matters in a way that certainly had to influence Quentin Tarantino when he was writing Pulp Fiction. Some of the jokes are funny just because they are so silly (i.e., the gangster swearing his truth on his mother's grave). It's this sense of humor and the fact that the movie doesn't take itself seriously that sets it apart from other gangster movies of the day.
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Waking the taste-buds of your heart
little_brother29 November 2007
The opening scene is of a man running in dark streets. We only hear his steps and the menacing mechanical sound of traffic which we assume to be made by the pursuer. He collides with a post and is stunned. A man carrying a bouquet of flowers, helps him to his feet. As they walk, the man is expansive and briefly describes the course of his relationship with his wife, from simple selfish lust leading to marriage and only later, leading to true love. The man excuses himself, turning towards his home, and in an instant the original victim returns to his role as prey to some all-pervasive, inhuman, pursuer.

For me, this is Truffaut, the viewer identifying with the victim for a few moments, being safe in the domestic harmony of the man, only to be launched anew into the role of the hopeless quarry. The talkative man's recognition of his dependence on his wife contrasts with a later scene, in a car, where the two gangsters reveal highly cynical attitudes towards women. The irony is that their cynicism is capped by Charlie (Edward), who quotes his father as saying "when you've seen one woman, you've seen them all". It is significant how timid and respectful he is when daring to interrupt the macho diatribe of the two hoods. With this one statement, we have the background to the whole story.

Big brother, Chico, the "prey", needs help from Eddy, who is very reluctant to be drawn in, but family ties prove too strong. We see Chico as being a demanding,selfish, brute and can guess he takes after his father. We also guess where Eddy's timidity originates.

In the dialogue between Eddy and the brutish bar-owner, who is jealous of Eddy's attractiveness to the waitress, Lena, Eddy even offers to leave. When the bar-owner tells Eddy he is scared, Eddy repeats the phrase, playing with it as if it were a new flavour. This seems to be the ultimate in humility or humiliation, yet Eddy respectfully almost accepts it as advice. This short conversation suggests a life of victimisation, from father and big brother. Yet, most touching of all, is that his submission does not mask underlying contempt; Eddy still cares for the bar-owner as he does for his brother. Later, when the two are collapsed in the alley after a struggle, Eddy tosses aside his advantage of the knife and is then tricked by the bar-owner, who appears to be offering to make peace with a manly hug, but then attempts to strangle Eddy.

In his relations with Lena, Therese and Clarisse we witness tenderness, spontaneity, playfulness and trust. I don't know if it's my imagination, but these scenes seem to have brighter lighting. With each woman, there is a different mood. For instance, those involving Therese are all flashbacks and seem to involve more classical, static camera-work, lending an appropriate quality of distance. With Clarisse, the prostitute, there is bawdy, but innocent humour and no physical embarrassment, while with Lena there is adolescent awkwardness, reminiscent of Woody Allen, followed by such delicate, romantic scenes of physical discovery.

There are unexpected cameos, such as Boby Lapointe, in the bar singing "Framboises" and Fido, Eddy's kid brother being fascinated by the two gangsters who have kidnapped him. The final moment of the film, ignores the outcome of the feud between gangsters and brothers. We are only concerned with Lena.
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This Film Is For Truffaut Devotees Only !!!
JoeKulik18 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I now understand why Shoot The Piano Player was a box office flop & a critical flop when it premiered in 1960. That this film has gotten so many positive reviews on this site can only be due to the fact that Francois Truffaut has become some sort of mythical//cult film hero lately & that the positive reviews of this film are based on his reputation & his legend, rather than on the actual quality of this film.

Although this film has many of the ground breaking, fresh qualities of Truffaut's first feature 400 Blows, considered as a stand alone film, the story line in Shoot The Piano Player is just not as real & as natural as his first film. For me, there are just too many points in this film where the action is just plain phony, unreal & unnatural.

In both kidnapping scenes, where Charlie & Lena are in the car with the gangsters & when Fido is in the car with the gangsters, the talkative, carefree attitude of the gangsters just doesn't ring true for me. That these guys are "bad" enough to rob a bank & do two kidnappings & have a big shootout at the end where one of the gangsters deliberately kills Lena in cold blood & yet that these two "bad guys" carry on conversations with their hostages about the most ridiculous & trivial matters just doesn't fit together for me. "Bad guys" don't engage in lighthearted, casual, friendly banter with their kidnap victims.

While Charlie & Lena are in the car with the two gangsters who kidnapped them, Lena deliberately steps on the gas pedal to make the car run a red light & get pulled over by the cops. OK !! Great way to foil your kidnappers, Right? But when the kidnappers & Charlie & Lena get out of the car to talk to the cops, neither Charlie nor Lena exclaim that they're kidnap victims & tell the cops that the bad guys even have guns !!! Charlie & Lena simply walk away & catch a bus back to town !! SORRY, but that's just not the way that real kidnap victims behave when they finally come into contact with the cops. Had either Charlie or Lena exposed these other two guys in the car as kidnappers, the bad guys would've been arrested & everyone else in the story, including all of Charlie's brothers would be safe from these guys. Just doesn't make sense to me.

When the hooker next door to Charlie realizes that the gangsters kidnapped Fido, why doesn't she call the cops?? And when the hooker tells Lena that the gangsters kidnapped Fido, she too fails to call the cops. SORRY, but that's just too unreal for me. When an adolescent gets kidnapped, you call the cops--That's a REAL reaction.

When Fido is driving with the gangsters, he has at least three separate chances to escape, but, for reasons unknown to me, he fails to run away until he actually brings the gangsters to the farm house where his brothers are hiding out. Either this kid is a moron or the screenwriter's head is out to lunch, because no boy his age is that stupid.

When Charlie & Plynne, the bar owner, are engaged in "mortal combat", Charlie finally disarms Plynne & chases him out into the alley with a knife in his hand where Charlie finally apprehends him. GREAT, but what does Charlie do next? He simply drops the knife & tells Plynne, the guy who was trying to kill him just a minute ago, that he just gives up, thereby giving Plynne the chance to strangle him. SORRY, but REAL people just don't behave as Charlie did in that fight scene when he just threw away his knife & gave up.

That Charlie was supposed to be such a famous concert pianist in years past that he was having press conferences & that the ladies on the street were all ogling him, as Charlie asserts, & that then Charlie acquires perfect anonymity by simply changing his name & playing honky tonk music in a dive bar on the other side town of the same city, Paris, without ever being recognized is just BS. Even if the patrons of the dive bar were so low class that none of them followed fine concert music or read the newspaper, which is a dubious proposition at best, someone on the streets would have certainly recognized him & eventually his gig at the dive bar would've been exposed. To achieve the type of anonymity that Charlie did after being such a famous concert pianist, he would've had to move to another city, at least.

In short, the behavior of the characters in Shoot The Piano Player are just too UNREAL & UNNATURAL for me to consider it a worthy example of fine Cinematic Art.
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A charming, inventive film-noir-homage.
3rdMan3 May 1999
With singer/actor Charles Aznavour in the lead (his expressive face is priceless), "Shoot the Piano Player" is one of Truffaut's most charming and inventive works. Aznavour plays Charlie/Edouard -- a former concert pianist who becomes an anonymous piano player in a dive bar in order to escape his past. After his brother (Remy, who Truffaut also used wonderfully in "The 400 Blows") gets in trouble with some borderline inept gangsters, chaos ensues.

Truffaut's winsome camera and editing techniques blend perfectly with Aznavour's performance. A must for fans of the French New Wave.
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Maybe I Just Don't Get It.....But I'll Try Again
ccthemovieman-125 October 2006
This is a movie I hope gets better with multiple viewings because I was disappointed on the first look. I bought it sight-unseen because I am a film noir fan and I read several reviews absolutely raving about this film. So, I expected a lot.

This was too much of a talky, off-beat noir with stupid dialog in too many parts. The French certainly have a different way of viewing things than I do. This more of a melodrama than a crime story, although a crime does take place. When it occurs, it's a short but shocking scene.

Charles Aznavour has an interesting face and the women in here are pretty but the cops and other characters in general are just too dopey for me. Why film noir "experts" all like this movie is beyond me. Maybe I just "don't get it." Well.....I do like the title, at least.
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Entertaining, Comical & Touching
seymourblack-18 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Shoot The Piano Player" is an enormously entertaining movie that utilises a variety of different styles, moods and sudden changes of pace to tell the story of a piano player whose attempts to achieve contentment in obscurity are thwarted by the actions of his criminal brother. This was Francois Truffaut's second movie and at the time of its making, he was clearly on a creative high, as what's seen on screen looks like the delirious outpourings of a mind that was totally passionate about filmmaking and also brimming over with ideas.

Truffaut's love of movies started at an early age and provided him with some respite from his very troubled childhood. As a young man he, like most of the well known New Wave directors, became a contributor to the film journal "Cahiers du Cinema" and together, they advocated a more informal approach to filmmaking with greater use being made of footage that was shot outside of the studios. The type of films that had captivated the young Truffaut were predominantly American B-movies and it was because of his great respect and affection for them that he made "Shoot The Piano Player".

Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour) is a pianist in a small but lively Parisian bar who finds that his regular routine is thrown into chaos when his older brother Chico (Albert Remy) seeks his help because he's being pursued by a couple of gangsters. It transpires that Chico and another brother, Richard (Jean-Jacques Aslanian), had worked together with Momo (Claude Mansard) and Ernest (Daniel Boulanger) on a heist but had double crossed them when they took off with most of the loot.

Charlie leads a quiet life looking after his youngest brother Fido (Richard Kanayan) and is helped in this by his good natured neighbour Clarisse (Michelle Mercier) who's a prostitute and also occasionally, his mistress. Helping Chico leads to trouble for Charlie when he and his girlfriend Lena (Marie Dubois) get kidnapped at gunpoint by Momo and Ernest, but fortunately, they manage to escape when Ernest's bad driving leads to him being stopped by the police.

Lena is a waitress at the bar where Charlie works and tells him that she knows about his past. Charlie had been a very successful concert pianist (known by his real name, Edouard Saroyan) but had given up his career after his wife Therese (Nicole Berger) had committed suicide. Tragically, she had taken her own life because she'd confessed to Charlie that the first big break in his career had come as a result of her agreeing to sleep with his impresario. Charlie's inability to come to terms with what she'd done had been more than she could bear.

After Charlie kills his boss in self-defence, trouble continues to follow him until events ultimately reach a climax during a shoot-out in a countryside location.

Charlie is a tragic and sensitive character who's a victim of fate. Not only had his career, which had elevated him to a new level of success, ended suddenly with the result that he'd ended up back in the type of environment that he'd originally emerged from, but also his love affairs with Therese and Lena both ended in tragedy and heartbreak.

There's a great deal that's melancholic and poignant about Charlie's story but the way in which it's told is often comical, irreverent and disconcerting because of the use of unorthodox styles of editing and pacing. This juxtaposition of humour and pathos could be regarded as a reflection of the normal balance of life which often leads to humorous things happening at times of great sadness or it could simply be what happens when someone who's so intoxicated by the possibilities of his art form gives his creativity free rein.

The quality of the acting in this movie is consistently good but Charles Aznavour's performance is positively exceptional. His facial expressions and body language are perfect and convey Charlie's vulnerability and innate sadness so well that it would be hard to imagine anyone else being able to improve on what he achieved in this role.
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Offbeat French New Wave Crime Drama With Hitchcockian Influences
ShootingShark21 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Charlie, a pianist at a cheap Parisian nightspot, inadvertently gets mixed up with some gangsters who have been double-crossed by his brothers. The gangsters also kidnap Lena, a waitress at the club, who is in love with Charlie and knows his secret - he used to be a famous concert pianist until something terrible happened ...

Based on the book Down There by David Goodis, and scripted by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, this is an interesting, fast-paced mix of classical French character drama with a more escapist Hitchcockian plot and dialogue. It doesn't quite work as a suspense picture although there are several tense moments, but the characters are fascinating and there is a terrific sense that Charlie - the only normal person in a gallery of nutcases - is so used to being powerless to change the melodrama around him that his only answer is to sit down and play the piano. The cast are good, particularly the three female leads; the stunning-looking Dubois as the femme fatale, Berger as the tragic wife and Mercier as the happy hooker next door. Featuring ultra-dark photography by the great Raoul Coutard, and memorable music by Georges Delerue. An odd, intriguing movie, where French New Wave meets American Film Noir. English title - Shoot The Piano Player.
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An Enjoyable Film-Noir by Truffault
claudio_carvalho1 August 2006
While playing piano in a bar, the pianist Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour) is approached by his crook brother Chico Saroyan (Albert Rémy), who has been chased by two gangsters. Charlie helps him to escape, but he upsets the two criminals, and they stalk Charlie and the waitress Lena (Marie Dubois), who is in love with him. The shy Charlie tells his past to Lena, when he was the former famous pianist Edouard Saroyan, and he quitted his successful career after the suicide of his wife, the also waitress Thérèse Saroyan (Nicole Berger). When his brother Fido Saroyan (Richard Kanayan), who is raised by Charlie, is kidnapped by the gangsters that want to know where Chico is, Charlie has to take an attitude with tragic consequences.

The film-noir "Tirez Sur le Pianiste" is a weird movie about a timid man that has difficulties to express and to have the correct timing with the words. He seems to communicate only through the piano keys playing music, causing the death of his beloved wife and girlfriend for not saying the right words in the right time. The story is original, and it is difficult to label a genre for this movie: is it a film-noir, a drama, a romance, a thriller, a dark comedy? I believe all the answers are correct. The result is an enjoyable movie, mostly recommended for fans of Truffault. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "O Tiro no Pianista" ("The Shot in the Piano Player")

Note: On 02 October 2011, I saw this film again.
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an awful movie
bugzzy3 March 2008
I don't know where you guys go, to find out all the things you've been writing about this lousy movie! Be honest, the movie is awful, nothing goes well, from beginning to end, it's an whole mess... Starts as a mediocre comedy, the middle it's all about some piano player needing of psychiatric care and in the end it turns into a second rate "film-noir" B movie. Comparing this one with Vertigo, hum... one too many drinks? It's true that the less there is, the more you can add. That's the reason why art critics say a lot about those very "deep" and "full of message", plain and one color only paintings. If you have seen " A Bout the Soufle" you could tell right away "this guy doesn't really knows what's doing...", but the funny thing is that in the end, it turns out not so bad. Guess luck doesn't strike that often. Forget this movie, don't wast your time watching it, not when there's a lot of good stuff out there.

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Accept the Vacuum?
tedg23 February 2006
Goodness me. I tend to "load" movies beyond what the casual viewer would. And I am the perfect candidate for films that have lots of blank placards here and there, areas of vacuum where you are supposed to place your cinematic references and thus remind yourself of the vacuity of your own life.

But after a couple movies, that gets uninteresting. Godard evolved and took chances. Resnais targeted the structure of the vacuum and not the vacuum itself. Truffault, well, you have to make your own choices in life.

To an amazing extent, you are what you digest artistically. Your soul sees with the spectacles you allow.

So you'll have to make a choice about this movie. The character reaches out twice, to two women. Each time, they die because they care for him. Once, he himself kills for one. So he retreats. It is all about the retreat and why.

He is a consummate artist and his retreat is into pop music. There's a terrific long song about falsies that he accompanies, sort of a minishow within the show. So it is clever, this notion of showing a character and his relationship to 3 women that reflects Truffault's choices about a relationship to us. And there is a lovingly edited sequence where he and the third woman are languidly lolling in postcoital linens.

But if you choose to accept this movie on its own terms, you'll be acting just like the piano player. Is that what you want?

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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KnightsofNi1122 May 2011
François Truffaut, the father of the auteur theory, expressed revolutionary ideas about cinema and his theories about growth of cinema and his ideas that stretched cinema to a true art form played a major role in cinemas development today. Unfortunately, I just can't seem to find the translation of his ideas into his own films. Shoot the Piano Player is about a man named Charlie Kohler who plays piano in a small bar. He used to be a huge piano virtuoso until he became too involved with his brothers who are part of the gangster world. And now he can't escape their world as much as he wants to. After one of his brothers comes to his bar looking for refuge, Charlie, whose real name is actually Edouard, a name he gave up after leaving his professional piano playing days, is reluctantly drawn back into his family's business.

Overall, Shoot the Piano Player was a pretty dull experience. There are certain things you can give it credit on. It tells an original story with characters that don't fall into particular stereotypes. The dialouge is witty and fluid, although I do have some issues with it. But I'll get to that in a second. I want to keep from sounding like I hated this film or that it is a bad film, because both of those are false. I didn't hate this film because it isn't a bad film, and it's not a bad film because Truffaut really does strive for something original here. I suppose that for the time it probably was pretty original, but today I'm not very impressed by any of it, and I hate to admit it but it sort of bored me. Maybe it is all just personal issues of mine, but for whatever reason I was never enthralled by the story here. I followed it just fine, but I was never moved by it and I never felt the motivation or obligation to invest much interest in the story, as much as I felt I should have been able to. Perhaps I just look for too much in a film and want to be emotionally gripped in every film I watch. But I don't want this review to devolve into a reflection of my own movie watching habits, so I'll move on.

Truffaut boasts a keen understanding of the human psyche and human condition in all of his films. He strives to include an abundance of comments on sociology in his dialouge, and that brings me back to the issue I mentioned earlier. There are odd moments when I start to feel like Truffaut is just throwing a line into the story to make some point about the human psyche. It seems like many of his scenarios are too well set up and only serve as a means to reflect on humanity. I give him kudos for addressing the thing which mystifies us all and is the subject of so many movies, but I just feel like the execution of some of his ideas fall flat. A lot of other films do this, and probably more blatantly than Truffaut, yet I guess I don't notice the blatancy as much as in a Truffaut film, because when I think of Truffaut I think of psychology and his theories relating back to auteurs. It's a weird idea that probably makes zero sense, but that's the best I can explain it.

So I'm not sure how much of this review has actually been about Shoot the Piano Player, so I apologize. But I suppose it goes to show how I was only able to become mildly interested in this film. There isn't a whole lot that grabbed my attention here, thus I just don't have a ton to say about this movie. It isn't a bad film, but to me it wasn't memorable and I don't plan on seeing it again.
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Truffaut An Over-Rated, Hack Director
StrictlyConfidential27 August 2018
Personally speaking - I think that a much more appropriate, alternate title for this dreary, French, "new wave" production would have been "Shoot The Director".

Just like Godard and Cocteau - I think that Truffaut was yet another grossly over-rated, and, yes, talentless filmmaker from his generation.

IMO - This often highly-praised film had "amateur" written all over it.

Shoot the Piano Player's story was so dry, monotonous, and deadpan throughout that my overall reaction towards this picture never once rose above the level of sheer boredom during its 80-minute running time.

I understand that this film was Truffaut's way of paying homage to American gangster pictures.

Well - Let me tell ya - "Shoot The Piano Player" wasn't a homage to that genre at all. No. It was more like an insult, from my perspective.
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Not just another gangster movie
Junker-24 November 2001
When is a low-budget gangster movie not a low-budget gangster movie? When it's Francois Truffaut's "Shoot the Piano Player."

Truffaut had given himself a tough act to follow. His first feature film, "The 400 Blows," was one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time. So it's not surprising that critics were at first somewhat disappointed by this, his second film. Most initially dismissed it as a failure. But "Shoot" is looking better and better as the years go by.

Charles Aznavour is perfect as Charlie Kohler, the piano player at a run down Paris cafe. The barmaid, Lena (Marie Dubois) is secretly in love with Charlie. She knows the secret of his past and that Charlie is not just another two-bit piano player.

But Charlie has more than one secret in his past, and even Lena doesn't know them all. He is one of the most famous men in Paris and, at the same time, an anonymous, penniless bum. His past is a million miles behind him and, at the same time, walking through his back door.

"Shoot the Piano Player" is an excellent movie made by one of the greatest film directors of all time. It is also one of those rare movies that seems to get better and better upon successive viewings. This is certainly one low-budget gangster movie that is not to be missed.
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Truffaut's second film is a cool piece of french cinema!
Atreyu_II6 March 2012
After the great 'The 400 Blows', Monsieur Truffaut made this cool film with a peculiar title - a title which, by the way, I like. Curiously, the pianist is portrayed by a real-life musician: the great Charles Aznavour. However, the rest of the cast is about as great when it comes to acting abilities.

Despite the title, there is really very little of action. But hey, you can't expect a movie this old to have "exciting" levels of action like the modern movies. This is "old-school" action, when action was limited but authentic and even the noises were realistic, nothing to do with the almost deafening sounds of nowadays. Who needs those excesses? Deep down, this classic isn't limited to just one genre, being a successful but modest combination of different genres which works. Besides, few movies transform tense scenes into humorous scenes the way this does.

I really like the beating of the piano melody by Georges Delerue. Cinematography is quite decent and permits us to appreciate french streets and other places, a Truffaut specialty. I consider this one of Truffaut's best films, after 'The 400 Blows' and 'The Wild Child', and better than the interesting but flawed 'Jules et Jim'.

This should definitely be on Top 250.
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Different and that's what makes it good to watch.
Boba_Fett113816 January 2012
Basically this movie is different from anything else. It follows its own rules and it keeps maintaining its own style of storytelling. It's therefore also hard to place this movie into just one category. It's a bit of everything. There are some crime elements, some drama, romance but also plenty of comedy to enjoy.

But I believe that still the biggest reason why this combination of different genres works out, is because it picks a realistic approach to it all. It does this with its situations, characters and dialog. It makes this a very natural and pleasant movie to watch.

No doubt about it that this is a great constructed and made movie, by François Truffaut. He besides provides the movie with lots of style and tells the story from some good and interesting perspective and often lets the actor's and their expressions tell the tale.

The actors are all also real pleasant to watch in their roles. They all play some realistic characters, each with their own flaws and weaknesses. Charles Aznavour, who most people will still know as a singer, plays a pretty good main character but basically everyone in this movie seems to suit their role really well.

Thing I also really liked about the story itself were its love story elements. I liked it how some of the characters kept dancing around each other without expressing their true feelings to each other and when some of them finally ended up together, it showed that love is often far from perfect, no matter how well a certain person seems to suit you. There are always minor annoyances and sometimes the love is just simply gone after a while and you just can't wait to be alone again. This is of course not an approach to love that lots of other movies dare to take but it does really work out refreshing and besides as realistic as well.

It's difficult to really rate this movie, since this movie really is truly a thing of its own but bottom line is I liked it, so of course I just simply have to give it an high rating!

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Give Truffaut a Little More Respect...
cgodburn22 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Shoot the Piano Player has clearly influence several of modern cinema's crime movies, from Bonnie and Clyde, to The Usual Suspects right up to the era of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. Just as it has influenced these American films, Shoot the Piano Player itself was influenced by the American film noir and literature of the 1940's and '50's.

When this film opened in France in 1960 it was met with great expectations. The expectations were so great because of the success of Truffaut's first film, The 400 Blows, that it would be virtually impossible to meet them. The expectations from both critics and audiences were not met, of course, and Shoot the Piano Player quickly vanished from view. The same critics that bashed this film were the ones hailing Jean-Luc Godard as the new master of cinema, and it seemed that Truffaut was playing second fiddle to his friend and colleague at Cahiers du Cinema.

Fortunately, Shoot the Piano Player has made a come back in recent years, being gushed over by American critics who love its references and homages to pre and post war American film noir. It's fair to say that this film is an homage, because it is, but just because it is based on David Goodis' novel doesn't mean that this film is simply and homage. Shoot the Piano player is filled with visually stimulating tracking shots and a constant range of motifs that warrant it as being one of the best films of the French New Wave.

The main character Charlie (a piano player on the run from his past life, of course) is a fully realized character, and quite possibly the most layered main character of any crime film. Distraught over the suicide of his wife, Charlie goes into hiding from the people who drove her to her death and assumes a new identity as a saloon pianist. Mirrors become the central motif to express both his double life and the duality of the film itself. In fact the first shot of the film is of piano keys striking their cords within the frame of the mirror. Even though Charlie is two people, the film itself is both a comedy and a tragedy. Truffaut could have easily created separate scenes that were singularly tragic or comic. Instead he has blended the two genres in almost every single scene. For example there is a scene toward the end of the film where a gangster is chasing Charlie through an ally. At the start of the scene they are chasing each other for a very petty reason, and ladders, boxes, and other objects seem to be conveniently placed in the ally so Charlie and throw them at his pursuer in a light hearted way. However, the scene stops being funny when a man ends up killed. There are no cuts in this scene at all, and ultimately mise en scene (the technique that Truffaut wrote about as a film critic) serves him well. Balancing tragedy and comedy becomes the tight rope Truffaut must walk, and he does it well. He doesn't just throw in a funny scene here and there, but rather meshes the two into one.

Charlie's motivation is not only plausible but undeniably believable. Charlie's wife slept with a man in order to get Charlie performances throughout the city. When Charlie discovers that his wife has been unfaithful he cannot see beyond his own ego, sending her into a terrible depression. Many noir exercises have our hero's wife or child, or someone close to him be killed, thus motivating him into whatever path the film takes. Shoot the Piano Player twists this staple into something else, something real. His wife's death causes him to retreat from public life, but had he just forgiven her and listened to her, she would still be alive. During this well shot scene, his wife tells him that during her act of infidelity she felt she that her body was one thing and her heart another. Her body was performing the act, but her heart stayed with her husband, yet another duality in a film filled with them.

Truffaut deserves more than what he receives from critics. It's true that his films were not as well received or recognized as his pal Godard's, but when watching Shoot the Piano Player it's difficult to imagine cinematic history without him.
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a good film but not a great one,...despite the hype
MartinHafer29 July 2005
Despite many seeing this film as GREAT, I was impressed but not overly so by Shoot The Piano Player. It was a good film and had some wonderful twists and turns. It sort of reminded me of a combination of an American Film Noir picture combined with Breathless (which Truffaut wrote). It's more realistic style does differentiate it from Film Noir, though I still found myself preferring the better Film Noir films to this. In other words, if I were to compare The Killers, DOA or Kiss Of Death to this film, I would prefer the Hollywood versions--the dialog was not quite as realistic but much snappier and gritty. However, I am not knocking this film. I particularly enjoyed the flashback scene involving the pianist and his wife--it was BRILLIANT. In fact, I would have preferred if this section had actually been expanded into an entire film on its own. Her hidden secret and his reaction to it are dynamite on screen.
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