Love Formed By The Social Materiality Of Marriage Is A Psychological Defense, It’s Not A Disinterested Experience

Truffaut on the set of “Soft Skin”

Truffaut is psychologically involving Francoise Dorleac (playing the role of Nicole) to be in tune with this character’s unique style of reacting on the world.

Marriage as love and social institution where both need protection

Husband and wife, Pierre and Franca are not just enjoying the hunting season. They are, as if, permanently on guard, even when they are not conscious about it. What are the heroes of Truffaut’s film guarding? Their marital relations, of course, and its soul – their love.

Seven shots of a wife’s archetypal existential pantomime of defending her love and marriage (the malady and melody of intra-marital calculation to save marriage and love)

When Franca became worried, jealous and suspicious (she knows that the Demon often takes the appearance of a little boy named Amour/Eros), she began to act archetypally to protect her dignity, love, marriage and family

Franca started to torment Pierre with her suspicions and interrogations

The wife started to demand truth, “whatever it is”, she became “righteousness personified”, she became the fighter for human decency.

Playing on her husband’s guilty feelings Franca kept returning him to her grief in the hope that he will leave the un-say-able truth behind and then they’ll return to the blissfully blossoming past

Eventually Franca becomes not only furious at her husband but desperately and powerlessly violent. They both felt as victims. They both felt like unjustly punished children.

The wife even started to try to seduce her husband, who continued to hide the truth – he loved his wife for many years, and still wasn’t indifferent towards her emotionally and sexually.

Again and again and in vain Franca tried to resurrect the romantic years of their youth – she already didn’t want to return to the years of happy loyalty, now she wants much more – beautiful youthful excesses of passion

[Viewers are invited to analyze the previous seven stills from the film, while focusing not only on the psychology of spouses but on the compositions of shots rich in symbolic details, for example, on the symbolism of “jumping mirror” or the role of marital bed in Franca’s growing suspicion about Pierre’s disloyalty]

Human soul’s soft skin

Nicole’s gaze was like a tranquil well – no winds, no currents, not even reflections

It‘s of no surprise that Nicole fell in love with Pierre, a charming, interesting, witty and caring man

Mystery of the soul’s soft skin

Pierre didn’t understand yet, that Nicole’s soft skin was that of her soul, not of her body. He felt with her like being in another world, gentle, soft, without any planning or need for achievements. How could a young pretty stewardess who surely has had experienced love affairs, have this aura?

Is it possible to appropriate and possess the soft skin of another person’s soul, to be its loving and caring patron?

Pierre wanted to buy an apartment for Nicole, to her own name – a place where they could be alone – out of this world

Nicole listened unable to feel any response. She loved Pierre and appreciated his dedication, but… she wanted just to live love. It looked that she felt completely alien to his project – to build their life, organize their living, to transform life into settlement, into placing a saddle on love…

Nicole wanted to return Pierre to life and to love, without attempts to prove her anything, without being occupied with securing/building their future.

Pierre’s obsessive enthusiasm over their future was robbing Nicole of what she knew – living like loving.

At this point Pierre found himself beyond choice between the lovely young woman and his wife with whom he shared years and their daughter. For the first time this famous publisher and lecturer with a successful career, and confident and an energetic problem-solver confronts the impossibility to live as he used to.

The punishment for transgressing the logic of marital love for the sake of mystique of “soft skin”

An abandoned wife Franca feels herself on a mission to save her love and marriage

A betrayed and abandoned wife’s last attempt not to allow the betrayal of amorous and marital relations to take place.

Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut

Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. Pay attention to Jean-Luc’s fascinated but a bit condescending smile as a part of his friendly togetherness with Francois.

Superficial reaction on “Soft Skin” is its perception as an aromatic romance, an awful-waffle love story. We are prone to mix love with strong-string ties between two human beings to the degree of being obsessed with erotic possessiveness (“you are mine”, – saying typical beloved in the decisive moments of forgetting about the world, “and I am yours”; “Tonight I will be yours”, “right now we are one”, etc.). We love the feeling that the other person (“my” beloved) belongs… not to “me”, of course, but to our love, our togetherness or/and to our formal/informal pact or marriage. The possessor of a wife (like possessor of a husband) is not a husband or wife correspondingly (to feel that they are and that this is ok to feel like that could be crudely non-democratic – an authoritarian prejudice, we are more refined than that), the possessor of our spouse is our relationship itself – our love and our marriage, our earthly and our sublime cave-castle, our marital and amorous sacred bonds.

To blend love and possession, as we habitually do in our perception of love is to be fascinated by the power of love. We are prone to perceive possessiveness (hiding behind love as body behind the shining clothes) as love. We habitually consider jealousy and the desire to avenge for amorous betrayal as motivated (“inspired”) by love. In “Soft Skin” we see love, stabilized and fundamentalized by marriage (bonds between Franca and Pierre), and we also see love which is much more sublime than possessive love (the one between Nicole and Pierre – phenomenon based on another model of human ties – that of spiritual relationship which incorporates Eros).

Conflict between “marriage-d” love or possessive love without marriage on the one hand, and a love inspired by unhardened skin of the human soul (the “soft skin” as the basic metaphor of the film) which Pierre feels as though, personified in Nicole is the very semantic structure of the film.

The semantic nuance complicating this structure is the fact that for Franca, Pierre’s wife, her husband’s betrayal is a much more justified target for revenge than her husband’s beloved. In a way, this is psychological sophistication – the feeling that the new beloved of “my” beloved is not “guilty” for the betrayal. In Truffaut’s film the focus of revenge is this betrayal itself. It is like a treason during war – punishment focuses on the person who has committed treason. So, betraying the marital (amorous) ties is considered by Franca’s unconscious as a much stronger “sin” than the autonomous, “out of wed-lock” sexual desire. There is no evidence for the presence in Franca a competitive emotion toward the much younger woman, who is “objectively” more attractive than most women of Franca’s age. So, what is determining Franca’s indignation and hate? Is it mysterious something that the film defines as “soft skin” (Franca saw Nicole’s photos)? May be, Franca senses in Nicole this mysterious quality (not Nicole’s prettiness at all), which makes her mad with fury to the point of readiness to reduce whole situation to a tragic collapse of rationality.

The main point of the film, it seems, is the beauty and nobility of the phenomenon of Nicole’s “soft skin” as existentially-spiritual value, opposite of a world of hard careerism (indiscriminate profit-making by neocons), and soft careerism (by people with liberal sensibility). Nicole is so different not only from Pierre’s wife Franca and Pierre himself but from their world. The character and the social posture of Pierre is fundamentally important for understanding of “soft skin” as a basic metaphor of the film. His amorous sensitivity for this feature of Nicole already makes him an exceptional person. He is in love with “soft skin”, with the not hardened human heart, with softness of uncalculating mind, with human soul as a spiritual alternative to our greedy and possessive pseudo-rational civilization. That’s why Truffaut’s Pierre is rare event, even in the European cinema, not to mention American movies. He is a liberal scholar. His drive for success is fierce, but it’s not comparable with the neo-conservative drive to conquer the world through financial seduction, bribery and through military control pompously named liberation. Pierre’s love for Nicole is that of a scholarly person with cultivated taste for human otherness. Without this he couldn’t be amazed with the strange character of a pretty stewardess. His love for Nicole is no way a typical reaction of an elder man on irresistible girl in her early twenty. That’s exactly why Franca felt that she cannot allow him to continue. She is as rude in her settlement in her husband’s social success, as he himself in his confidence in his professional competence. But in spite of all this, Pierre is a person with undeniable democratic sensibility, while Franca is personification of anti-democratic – megalomaniacal side of democracy, its conservative: anti-spiritual and anti-humility side.

Pierre and Nicole’s love is a challenge to the complacency of secular democracy which is turning away from spiritually-humanistic goals and instead dedicating itself to strengthening its economic and military power over the globe.

Truffaut’s film starts as a personal drama and ends as a personal tragedy, but through the detective stylization of urbanistic and interiors’ camera angles, we come to feel that it is our very way of life itself that is mobilized in front of our eyes against even tiny whirlpool of otherness in the souls of two human beings.

Posted on 11/10/’16 –   “The Soft Skin” (1964) By Francois Truffaut by Acting-Out Politics