This late masterpiece from François Truffaut about a Paris theatre company trying to stay up & running during the Nazi occupation was just too damn enjoyable to get the critical attention it deserved. In some ways, it’s like the so-called ‘tradition-of-quality’ pics Truffaut had lustily attacked as a young film critic. But it also has the personal touches you find under the surface professionalism & genre forms that he championed in his beloved Hollywood auteurs. There are tips of the hat toward Hitchcockian suspense & Lubitschean comic sexual egoism here*, but Truffaut revels in his own touch, shown in the effortless manner he handles his cast of Janus-faced performers. (A matchless group from Deneuve & Depardieu on down.) By now, his technique is so refined you barely register that as his right hand handles a complex tale of spies, collaborators & occupying German forces, his left is juggling the jealousies & plot mechanics of an opening night theatre farce. It’s one of the great entertainments. Don’t hold that against it.
*He does miss a couple of opportunities for a bit of sexual confusion during a surprise Gestapo visit that Ermst would never have let slip by.