Asks the interviewer, "What place would you give Shoot the Piano Player in relation to your other films?" Answers director François Truffaut, "No place. Simply the second film I made." Considering his first feature film was The Four Hundred Blows and his third was Jules et Jim, Truffaut's matter-of-factness and lack of pretense is worth a smile.
Shoot the Piano Player is worth smiles, too. It's a clever film, playful at times, even funny. More than anything, however, it defies categorization. The movie is a strange and successful amalgamation of crime and comedy, suspense and inevitability, tragedy and love, and gangsters, girl friends and violence. It's the story of Charlie Koller (Charles Aznavour), a piano player in a Paris dive who used to be Eduoard Saroyan, a famous pianist whose wife committed suicide. Truffaut says the movie is a film about a shy man. Charlie is the kind of shy man who cannot bring himself to touch the hand of a woman he wants. He can't go back and open the door to the room where he left his wife sobbing. He thinks about what he should do, but can't do it. Then circumstances take over. Charlie, thanks to his brothers, finds himself in a gangland underworld where double-crossing is going to lead to a shootout in the snow.
Some say Shoot the Piano Player is an homage to American gangster films. Perhaps it is, but I challenge anyone to spend much time considering this possibility while watching the movie. The film is original, funny, moving and sad. It's the kind of film that people who love movies write essays about. All I know is that I was moved by Charlie. We leave him where we met him, playing piano in a Paris dive.
Charles Aznavour, a diminutive man with a hangdog look, plays Charlie perfectly. Charlie thinks too much and does too little. Aznavour lets us see into Charlie's soul with few words. It's a marvelous performance that left me saddened by Charlie, but liking him.
The Criterion DVD transfer is first-rate. Criterion gives us two discs. The first has the movie and a commentary track. The second disc contains interviews by Aznavour and Marie Dubois, who played Charlie's girlfriend, Lena, plus excerpts from documentaries featuring Truffaut, and other extras. The Criterion case contains a 28 page booklet with substantial material on the film and Truffaut.