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Best Truffaut movie in years leads French invasion

By David Sterritt / February 2, 1984

France is planning a banner year on American movie screens. As toted up by Variety, the entertainment newspaper, at least 20 French movies are slated for release in the United States during 1984 - and many come from directors with good track records.

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Among all these offerings, though, I'll be surprised if any tops the smashing new picture by Francois Truffaut called ''Vivement Dimanche,'' rechristened Confidentially Yours for its American run. A charmer all the way, it blends elements of whodunit, romance, comedy, and melodrama into an unpredictable package that's easily the best Truffaut movie in years.

The heroine, played by Fanny Ardant, is a strong-minded secretary who won't sit still when her boss gets too bossy - even if he is played by the smooth Jean-Louis Trintignant, in his first Truffaut outing. When he snaps once too often, she snaps back, and he fires her. And there's the first puzzle of the picture: Where's the plot if the main characters won't have anything to do with each other?

Well, before she has time to clean out her desk, the boss gets accused of murdering a local businessman. Hoping to clear himself, he asks for a little help - and she snatches the investigation right out of his hands, daringly determined to prove his innocence. Why? It seems she likes him more than she lets on, and he just might be leaning the same way. . . .

That's a quick outline of the situation. It could have grown into a standard mystery-romance, but Truffaut gives every scene a special twist. Yes, the heroine wears a raincoat like countless sleuths before her, but the rest of her costume is as quirky as the subplot that accounts for it. While not every sequence has a built-in surprise, and the villain is easy to figure out, the plot is peppered with twists (from comic to hair-raising) that spice even the obligatory moments.

The story also has an off-kilter logic that marks ''Confidentially Yours'' as very much a Truffaut movie. Just when things seem darkest . . . a secret panel is discovered, evidence arrives from nowhere, needed information comes drifting through the transom from an overheard conversation. That isn't like real life, you say? Correct. It's something far more magical and whimsical. It's a movie, and proud to be one! Truffaut delights in using every trick up his sleeve to make the mystery more fun and the romance more romantic.

If all this has a slightly familiar ring, by the way, it's because one of Truffaut's first films - the popular ''Shoot the Piano Player'' - similarly took its cue from the long tradition of Hollywood gangster epics, farces, and love stories. The new ''Confidentially Yours'' doesn't explode the old genres as that movie did; it's more gentle, more mellow, more loving. But it shows this enormously gifted director back in touch with the wry irreverence that gave his early films part of their utterly unique flavor. Shot in atmospheric black and white by the great Nestor Almendros, it's a beauty in every sense.