Shoot the Piano Player

Shoot the Piano Player ★★★★

I'm glad I revisited this. Partly because I definitely liked it more than the first time I watched it (only a bit by star rating, but a lot by my memory of its impact), and partly because—contrary to my assumption otherwise—I actually forgot 90% of the film, enough so that I actually had no inkling of how the story would be unfolding. It's funny how sometimes one particular scene can dominate a memory of a film, pushing everything else aside.

Charlie is a piano player at a bar. He's minding his own business when one of his scoundrel brothers—on the run after a burglary, chased not by cops but some of his partners he's screwing over—looks to him for help. Like any upstanding pianist, Charlie isn't too keen to get involved, offering the barest minimum help. The barest minimum works, apparently, as suddenly Charlie is being pursued by those same men, looking for a way to get to their money.

That quickie synopsis suggests a frantic cat-and-mouse scramble as our hero musician is dragged into the lawless underworld with a target on his back, an impression bolstered by both the film's title and poster. Expect that and you'll probably find Shoot the Piano Player a touch disappointing. Instead, the pursuers tend to flit around the periphery of the narrative as director François Truffaut keeps things much more slice-of-life (in that distinctly French new wave way) as we follow Charlie through the several days that make up the core narrative (not to mention an extended flashback as we trace Charlie's career from nobody to somebody and back to nobody again). Most of these scenes involve women—and despite an initial appearance of disinterest, he beds more women here than I have *counts on fingers* ever—so there's a distinct smoking-in-bed aura to large swarths of Shoot the Piano Player.

And even when, at various points, the bad guys confront Charlie it's a very low-key affair. My favorite scene is when they grab him and a coworker/girlfriend and are driving along—presumably to the brother's hideout, although perhaps just aimlessly motoring about for funsies—and the cops pull the bad guys over. Charlie and his girlfriend just casually exit the car, say goodbye, and go on with their day. As if getting pulled off the street by crooks after your sibling is an everyday event.

Yet the casual atmosphere feels pretty on-point with Charlie's detached personality. He doesn't seem to rise to anything. I think the flashback explains that to some degree; we don't get a 5-paragraph essay on why Charlie is the way he is, but on a lay level it's easy to presume a certain amount of self-blame, of depression, of simply losing his vim for life. Or maybe he's much more afraid of himself, of what the combination of love and success wrought. What can two low-lifes in silly hats and smoking silly pipes and having silly conversations do to him that's worse?

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