One of the earth-shaking feature debuts in the history of cinema, Maurice Pialat’s L’Enfance-nue [Naked-Childhood] provides a perspective on growing-up that rejects both sentimentality and modish cynicism. Its unflinching, but also warmly accommodating, outlook on childhood attracted François Truffaut to take on the role as co-producer of Pialat’s film — which, ironically, exists as much as a response to Truffaut’s own debut The 400 Blows as that film was to the ‘cinema of childhood’ that came before the New Wave.
First-time actor Michel Tarrazon plays the young François, a provincial orphan whose destructive behaviour precipitates his relocation from the home of a long-term foster family to the care of a benevolent elderly couple. In the course of this transition, Pialat’s film presents the turbulence of François’s unmoored existence, and his explosive reactions to the contradictory emotions it engenders. This is the naked portrait of a soul’s — and an entire society’s — dysfunction, before the moment of reconciliation.
L’Enfance-nue represents the ideal introduction to the films of Maurice Pialat — an artist whose work resides alongside that of Jean Eustache and Philippe Garrel at the summit of the post-New Wave French cinema. One discovers in his pictures a raw and complicated emotional core which, as in the films of John Cassavetes, reveals upon closer examination a remarkably rigorous visual aesthetic, and a facility of direction which lifts both seasoned actors and debut amateurs to the level of greatness. Coupled here with Pialat’s poetic and brilliant early short L’Amour existe [Love Exists, 1960], L’Enfance-nue is the first masterpiece of an artist whose work has had an incalculable influence on contemporary directors as diverse as Bruno Dumont, Olivier Assayas, Michael Haneke, and the Dardenne brothers, among others — and whose 2003 passing led Gilles Jacob, president of the Festival de Cannes, to declare: “Pialat is dead and we are all orphaned. French cinema is orphaned.” The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Maurice Pialat’s 1968 debut feature film — and Prix Jean Vigo winner — in a magnificent restored transfer for the first time on home video in the UK.