Operating any business requires a great deal of care, attention, patience, and dedication regardless of type. This includes the wonderment of the theatre, as script writers, actors, directors, stagehands, and the owner/operator must collectively mesh in order to create, finance, and ultimately perform entertaining and flawless productions. All businesses must strategize and implement means to combat likely financial stressors that could impact success. However, another threat could be an attack on the very essence and integrity of the human beings contributing to the enterprise’s prosperity. This topic is at the heart of Francois Truffaut’s 1980 film “The Last Metro”. While Truffaut conveyed the complexities of artistic creation in his previous works, this particular story is set in Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII.
Marion Steiner, played by the lovely Catherine Deneuve, appears to be the distant and callous owner/operator/lead actress of Theatre Montmartre. Near the beginning of the film, she does not hire a Jewish actor for fear of condemnation by the Nazis. After all, scripts are now being censored. This initial act appears to be a type of reaction formation, as she hides her resilient husband of Jewish origin and former proprietor of the theatre, Lucas (Heinz Bennent), in its basement to hopefully evade the Nazis. She must also contend with an anti-semitic theatre critic named Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard). In addition, she must direct, play lead actress, and handle a myriad of interpersonal conflicts between actors and employees of the theatre in a very toxic political environment.
“The Last Metro” is a phrase referring to the importance of catching the last train before curfew each night in Paris during the Nazi occupation. The timing would often coincide following the end of a theatrical performance. In my opinion, the sense of finality in this phrase also signifies the brief period of time in which Parisian citizens could escape their fearful, harsh reality and enjoy the present before they were once again reminded of the harsh punishments of not arriving home punctually. It also marks the fragility of liberty in this environment, and the deception necessary to protect all that is dearest. The survival of individuals living in an area occupied by a dictatorial regime, as captured vividly and beautifully in this film as an example, is a testament to their patience, resilience, courage, will to live, and value of freedom.
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