The Last Metro [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (11th June 2022).
The Film

"The Last Metro" ("Le dernier métro") (1980)

It is 1942 and Paris is under Nazi German occupation. The Théâtre Montmartre is looking to start production on "Disappearance", a Norwegian play which was translated to French, and conforms to standards set by the occupied forces, including not being written by a Jewish writer. The theater is being run by actress Marion Steiner (played by Catherine Deneuve), who has taken it over from her Jewish husband Lucas Steiner (played by Heinz Bennent), who is hiding in the basement area as not to be arrested by the Gestapo. For the male lead of the play, actor Bernard Granger (played by Gérard Depardieu) auditions for the part, and in turn also starts falling for Marion who he acts opposite on stage.

When he started writing for film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma as a film critic in the 1950s, François Truffaut was overly critical of French cinema at the time with the traditional filmmaking techniques being dated and stilted. Over the course of his career as a feature filmmaker starting with "The 400 Blows", he and other up and coming directors broke new ground with their films that became the French New Wave. From the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Demy, Agnes Varda, Jaques Rivette, and other filmmakers broke with tradition with experimental techniques that went on to inspire and essentially change cinema internationally, even infiltrating mainstream filmmaking to the point that their works were no longer works of "outsiders". By the time that Truffaut's "The Last Metro" was released, the New Wave was no longer new, and Truffaut's career was in an odd position of being recognized for his past works while his more recent features were considered mediocre. 1973's "Day for Night" was a huge international hit critically and commercially, earning an Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film and his supporting performance in Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in 1977 was much more than just a cameo appearance, being a very significant role. But "Two English Girls" (1971) and "The Green Room" (1977) were disappointments and the final feature in the Antoine Doinel cycle "Love on the Run" (1979) was a terrible waste of time with most of the film being a "greatest hits" clipshow of the past Doinel films as well as unrelated films starring Jean-Pierre Léaud spliced in for disguise. But in 1980, Truffaut surprised everyone with a feature that earned both critical and commercial praise that somewhat went against what he long championed in his early days - by making a period film using mostly traditional techniques.

"The Last Metro" is a spiritual sequel to "Day for Night". "Day for Night" looked a the behind-the-scenes of a feature film in production, while also looking at characters within characters along with the fun and difficulties faced by the cast and crew. For "The Last Metro" the setting is changed to a stage production at a theater. While "Day for Night" was a very open and positive experience with its outdoor locations and numerous characters with comical interactions and situations, "The Last Metro" is more of a claustrophobic and tense setting due to the time period of the Nazi occupation and the numerous interior settings within the dark. The play that is being produced, "Disappearance" is a fictional play made for the film and serves little in terms of narrative parallel, occasionally having some situations truly reflect the actors. Instead the focus is on the situation as a whole, with the Nazi forces affecting the daily lives of Parisians as well as their affect on arts and entertainment with censorship and close watch from those in power and those willing to report. There is the secret with the theater owner secretly living in the basement with only his wife knowing, while everyone else thinks he has escaped from the country. There is the theater critic Daxiat (played by Jean-Louis Richard) who works for a right leaning publication who is quick to criticize anything that may be left leaning, which could easily alert the Nazi authorities. In addition, production designer Arlette (played by Andréa Ferréol) starts a relationship with supporting actress Nadine (played by Sabine Haudepin), which if caught by the Nazis could also make trouble for the theater as well. The theater group is careful not to hire any cast or crew that have Jewish blood to conform with the authorities and have to make sure their adaptation of the play won't raise any eyebrows either, but there are eyes everywhere and trust being difficult to keep.

Visually and aurally the film feels like the time period. Truffaut and cinematographer Nestor Almendros used long takes for many of the scenes to have actors move and perform naturally like it was an actual stage performance, and this counted for both stage within the film scenes and the off stage sequences as well. The color palate was also reflective of this, featuring a muted tone that lacked bright colors in the costumes, though there were some exceptions, such as some of the backgrounds of stage sets as well as the green glowing light in the basement, as well as the menacing red seen in the Nazi flags. The dark tone of the city and period is wonderfully reflected in the visuals, and the shooting, editing, and pacing are in a way, "old-fashioned", paying homage to the cinema of the period, which ironically was what Truffaut rallied against in his early days as a film critic. Truffaut was only eight years old when Paris fell to the Nazi forces in 1940, and what he was able to see in movie theaters at the time was terribly limited until the American forces helped liberate the city in 1944, so there are some autobiographical moments sprinkled in with the young child Jacquôt (played by Franck Pasquier), a ten year old that has an innocent look on the surroundings.

Like the filmmaking process, the story itself is fairly straightforward in a linear fashion, without deviations by unnecessary characters and motivations being quite clear. Depardieu's character of Bernard is the lead, though there are some questions to his past and loyalty, as well as a womanizing misfit. Marion's loyalty is also put to the test with her love for her husband down below but also for Bernard's advances from above. Both Depardieu and Deneuve play their roles with excellence, being well cast for their respective roles in scenes together and apart. The supporting players are also great, and these factors led to high praise when the film was released. The film was released on September 17th, 1980 in France and became a massive commercial hit with over 3 million admissions. It was nominated for 12 César Awards in 1981 and won 10 by sweeping almost every major category, with Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Music, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Editing, and Best Sound. In the United States it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and the Golden Globes. There was some lukewarm reception from some critics stating that the film was more or less on the conventional and commercial side, and an ironic piece coming from one of the innovative voices in French cinema, but it seems that time has been kinder to "The Last Metro", becoming one of Truffaut's most well known and pleasing features that mixed the arts and modern history with entertaining value. Conventional, yes, but who says that's a bad thing? (Oh, yes the younger Truffaut...) Truffaut's comeback was in full effect, and his two subsequent films "The Woman Next Door" (1981) and "Confidentially Yours" (1983) were also hits, with each having more than 1 million admissions in France. He had a script entitled "L'Agence Magique" ("The Magical Agency") which would have been a spiritual follow-up to "Day for Night" and "The Last Metro", this time focused on music. Unfortunately he died on October 21st, 1984 at the age of 52 from a brain tumor, and the film was never made. Truffaut had imagined that he would make a total of thirty feature films in his life, in which after his 30th he would dedicate himself to writing again. He was five short of his goal. Of his twenty-five features, some of them have become undisputed masterpieces that receive more praise over time. "The Last Metro" is not at the top, but is certainly a well made and well executed work by the older and wiser Truffaut.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer comes from a 2K restoration completed in 2014. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution by MK2 and the French Cinémathèque and restored by Digimage labs under the supervision of famed cinematographier Guillaume Schiffman and camera assistant Eric Vallée. The transfer here is a controversial one, as it looks nothing like the previous HD transfer that was available on previous Blu-ray editions, such as the US Criterion and UK Artificial Eye releases. The warm earthy tones of browns and golds are completely gone in this new restoration, instead having a visually cold and strikingly dark tone with the image. The film's late cinematographer Nestor Almendros wrote in his 1984 memoir that he and Truffaut looked to capture a muted color palate with the visuals, and in that sense this new restoration does in fact make the image look closer to his descriptions with the softer look of yesteryear rather than the bright and vivid tones seen in Hollywood color films of the period. As the older HD transfer came from an interpositive and the new restoration coming from the original negative, it does seem like the muted look is the original and intended look. Considering the story took place in the bleak years of the German occupation of France, the muted and colder tones are much more striking as well as natural. The older transfer had yellow colored newspapers and a golden hue that looked too much of a fantasy rather than the reality the story was conveying. The supervisors of the restoration were not involved in the production itself (Schiffman's first work was four years after Truffaut's passing and Vallée's first credited work was the same year as "The Last Metro"), but it seems like they were able to bring back the look and feel that has been missing from screens for years here, and of course with credit to the technicians as well. The color palate change is the most obvious change, but there are other striking positives about the new transfer. Colors are much more stable as well as image stability, as seen with the bright red opening credits looking much better than the older transfer. Sharpness has also been improved with more detail seen, and damage being almost entirely eliminated while leaving a healthy amount of natural film grain in the process. Sure there might be some that prefer the warm colors of the older transfer, but there are more positives to be said with this new restoration, as well as being closer to Truffaut's intentions seemingly.

The film's runtime is 131:49 which includes restoration text at the start.

For a visual comparison of the older HD transfer and the newer 2K restoration, the French review site TestsBluray has some screenshots of the US Criterion Blu-ray and the French Carlotta Blu-ray (which looks identical to the BFI transfer) at the bottom of their page.


French LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono track is presented uncompressed. The track is clean and clear, with dialogue being easy to hear and well balanced against the music and effects with no particular issues of hiss, crackle, or other problems. It won't particularly exercise the speakers, though it certainly gets the job done.

There are optional English subtitles in a white font, which are well timed and easy to read. There was one odd issue with the subtitles when Marion is buying the ham and is told it weighs "sept kilos" in French, but in the English subtitles it is translated as "14 lbs", which is correct when converting kilograms to pounds, but why use "lbs" in the UK subtitles when the country has for a while been an adopter of the metric system? The UK Artificial Eye Blu-ray also has the subtitles as "14 lbs" and not "7 kilos". Maybe because the United Kingdom was still using lbs for weight in 1942 so it was for historical posterity?


Audio commentary by Gerard Depardieu and historian Jean-Pierre Azema, moderated by film critic Serge Toubiana
This commentary, recorded in 2000 for the MK2 DVD edition features critic Serge Toubiana interviewing Depardieu and historian Jean-Pierre Azema in two separate sessions and edited together. For Depardieu's portions, he discusses his initial meetings with Truffaut and his working method, working on stage within the film, his castmates, and some behind the scenes information. For Azema, he discusses French history of the occupied period and how they are portrayed within the film, from the black market shops, the popular songs, the treatment of Jews, and more. Azema's portions are much longer than Depardieu's and while there is a lot of good information between them, there are a few dry spots in between.
in French Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Audio commentary by Annette Insdorf
In this newly recorded by Truffaut scholar Annette Insdorf (differing from her solo commentary recorded for the Criterion DVD and Blu-ray editions from 2009), there are discussions of films that influenced and were influenced by "The Last Metro", historical context of France in 1942, connections to other Truffaut films, background information on the film and on Truffaut's life, cast and crew information, the reception, and more. Very informative and well researched as expected, though there is a bit of echo in the recording, which one's ears should get used to eventually.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Deleted Scene: Angels of Mercy (5:00)
Presented here is a deleted scene of Valentin visiting the theater to discuss with Marion about his screenplay "Angels of Mercy" which appears earlier and is referenced before and after. It is a fully edited scene and looks quite good, coming with the same quality as the older HD transfer from over a decade ago, with very few damage marks to be found.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Gallery (1:44)
A series of stills in an automated silent slideshow, featuring behind the scenes photos.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Trailer (2:44)
The original French trailer is presented here, which sells it more like a wartime suspense drama rather than a stage drama. It has been embedded below, courtesy of MK2.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

A 28 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is the essay simply titled "The Last Metro" by the University of Edinburgh's Pasquale Iannone discussing the film, where it stood in Truffaut's career and its themes. "Truffaut: A Certain Incompatibility?" by Catherine Wheatley is next, which is an article that was originally published in Sight & Sound in March 2011, looking at the critical and commercial hits and fails by Truffaut and comparisons with other French New Wave directors. There are also two reprinted reviews of the film, one by Richard Combs from Monthly Film Bulletin July 1981 and the other by Julian Jebb for Sight & Sound, Summer 1981. There are also full film credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills.

Compared to the other BFI Truffaut releases this year, this one does seem relatively light on extras. The various Blu-ray releases over the years have had a number of differing editions, each with differing exclusive extras, with only the Depardieu/Azema commentary and the deleted scene being common with all releases.

Other notable clips:

Presentation by Serge Toubiana, originally made for the 2000 MK2 DVD, presented here dubbed in English

Truffaut interviewed about "The Last Metro" (audio only) in 1980 (in French)

Catherine Deneuve interview from 1981 on "The Last Metro" (in French)

Catherine Deneuve accepting the César for Best Actress for "The Last Metro"


"The Last Metro" is a great work by the amazing François Truffaut late in his career, focusing on character, history, as well as the performing arts. The BFI Blu-ray is a little light on extras, but features a great 2K restoration transfer as well as a new and exclusive commentary track making this recommended.

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B+


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