AFI FEST Review: A Legendary Conversation Turns into an Uneven Documentary with ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’

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In 1962, François Truffaut was a rising star in the world of cinema. Having written extensively for Cahiers du Cinéma, the legendary French film criticism publication, and directed three features, Truffaut was at the forefront of the French New Wave, which would revitalize cinema in both form and thought. At the same time, however, Alfred Hitchcock was among Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers, though he wasn’t universally revered as a master of the art form. Instead, Hitchcock was seen as a showman that churned out violent crowd-pleasers devoid of substance. While the elder filmmaker was in the process of editing The Birds, François Truffaut and his translator Helen Scott sat with the filmmaker on the Universal Studios lot for a week’s worth of interviews, examining the craft and work of a legendary filmmaker. Years later, Truffaut would publish Hitchcock/Truffaut, which would become a quintessential book about cinema – it still is to this very day.

The conversation between the two filmmakers and the ensuing book is now the subject of a new documentary by Kent Jones, simply titled Hitchcock/Truffaut, which examines the contents of the book as well as its impact on a number of filmmakers. The film features interviews from a number of prominent filmmakers, including Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and David Fincher. But the resulting film works best when it’s focused on the two directors and their conversations, and falters when it becomes a prolonged video essay with filmmakers dissecting the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Using archival footage, photos from Phillippe Halsman, private correspondence from both men, and the actual audio conversations, when Jones’ film is focused on these aspects it’s a lively film with a number of good humored moments rising from the dry wit of Hitchcock. Many of these moments are paired with scenes from multiple Hitchcock films, illustrating the veracity of the legendary filmmaker’s technique and obsessions.

At first, the stories from the varied (all male) filmmakers assembled are interesting, but when the film drifts away from the relationship between Hitchcock and Truffaut and examines heavily on Psycho and Vertigo, the film itself kind of drags. It is pretty much just a video essay featuring famous faces. Their insights are much more interesting when it’s of a personal variety and not analyzing why Hitchcock is great.

For those unaware of the Hitchcock/Truffaut book, the film will be a welcome primer into one of the essential film texts, one that sheds light on the filmmaking process and the personality of one cinema’s finest craftsmen. But for those who have scoured the pages of Truffaut’s book, Hitchcock/Truffaut will come across as an entertaining but uneven examination of what made Hitchcock great and what made the book a must-read for cinephiles for decades.

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