The Soft Skin (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), Francois Truffaut’s cool, creamy smooth melodrama of a doomed affair, channels the director’s love of Hitchcock into a film that you wouldn’t otherwise associate with the work of the master of suspense. It’s not a thriller in any generic sense of the term, but Truffaut sets the lush romanticism of exciting indiscretion in a world where sudden stabs of ominous music hint at a tragedy in the making.
Literary critic Jean Desailly doesn’t have adultery on his mind when he becomes entranced with a lithe, lovely young stewardess (Francoise Dorleac) who keeps crossing his path on a speaking engagement—he’s happily married with a wife (Nelly Benedetti) and a daughter—but he plunges ahead with an affair that, despite his best efforts, begins to unravel all of their lives. Truffaut invests it with Hitchcockian echoes of guilt and fear of discovery as well as stylistic touches both effective (a meticulously plotted sequence of just-missed connections) and merely offbeat (a drive to the airport backed by a Psycho-like violin theme). Pulling back the veneer of chic elegance and attractive confidence, Desailly emerges not so much sordid as vain and pathetic, and his wife comes into her own with her heartbreaking discovery of his lies, at once angry, hurt, threatened, and grasping at reconciliation while sabotaging her own efforts with frustrated attacks. It’s an unusual film with sudden changes in tone that does little to prepare the viewer for the dark climax: the tragic side of Truffaut’s fascination of philandering men that runs throughout his career. Watch for the scene with the kitten who licks off the plate set out for room service; Truffaut recreated it for his film-within-a-film in Day For Night.
Previously only been available on a poorly-mastered (and long out-of-print) DVD in the U.S., it’s been remastered for Blu-ray and DVD from a new digital HD digital transfer from the original camera negative. It features commentary (in French, with English subtitled) by Truffaut’s co-screenwriter Jean-Louis Richard and Truffaut scholar Serge Toubiana (originally recorded in 2000), the half-hour 1999 documentary Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock (about the famous interview book), a new video essay by film critic Kent Jones, and an archival interview with Truffaut from 1965 about the film, plus a leaflet with an essay by Molly Haskell.
The Criterion restoration is also available to stream for Hulu Plus subscribers, but an HD stream can’t match the quality of a high-quality Blu-ray.