Although Scola questions modes of storytelling and their relation to conventions of representation, the medium of film is no source of anxiety to him. It is different for François Truffaut in La Chambre verte (The Green Room), a film made in 1978. Here the artist questions not only his own role as artist but also the ability of the film medium to represent anything lifelike. This is a work that stands as a testimonial to Truffauts conception of the art of film, and of his own role as artist.
La Chambre verte is Truffaut’s most philosophical film. In it he reflected on his creative sources as a filmmaker, consciously quoting artists like Jean Cocteau and Abel Gance who had influenced him in his early career. He also quoted extensively from his own previous films (especially L’Enfant sauvage). Finally, he wove into his adaptation of three stories by Henry James (“The Green Room,” “The Beast in the Jungle,” and “The Friends of the Friends”) a discourse on the relation between art, life, and death. Truffaut’s ambitious scope places the film alongside other works, both literary and cinematic, that have struggled with the same themes: the films of Cocteau, the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Villiers de l’lsle Adam, and Italo Calvino. The depth of his insights makes it appropriate to draw on the critical writings of Harold Bloom, which can help to elucidate the complex textual strategies that Truffaut has resorted to in his film.
At the turning point of La Chambre verte, the bereaved Julien Davenne, who is still mourning the loss of his wife eleven years ago, orders the destruction of a wax model he had had made of her (Fig. 13). The offended artist protests in vain that the lifesized doll is exactly like the photograph Davenne gave him as a model. Davenne refuses what he calls the “thing”; he won’t recognize any connection between it and his beloved Julie. Most especially, he cannot bear her look—the way her eyes stare blankly out into space. Before the artist begins his act of destruction, the point of view shifts abruptly to a position in the darkness outside the brightly-lit studio; through the window, the artist is seen dismantling the likeness of Julie with the blows of an axe. The spectator is doubly implicated in this assassination of representation, which is experienced at once from the position of that lurking, voyeuristic camera, and from the darkened perspective of the movie theater. In the larger context of the film, this “murder” of the woman’s image becomes the figure for Truffaut’s questioning of cinematic representation.
In despair, Davenne returns to the cemetery where a photographic medallion adorns Julie’s tombstone—the same pose that he keeps enshrined in his home. As he stands before the tomb, the photograph becomes the starting point for his reverie. The camera pans down to the inscription “Julie Davenne née Valence 1897-1919.” The last visitors to the cemetery leave, and the guardian closes the gates, leaving Davenne locked inside for the night. Davenne is now shut into a separate space devoted to the dead, a fact that Truffaut underscores by accompanying the hero’s suspension in thought with music that evokes the visit to the underworld in Jean Cocteau’s Orphée (1950). In Cocteau’s film the poet and his guide traverse a mirror in search of the poet’s deceased wife Eurydice. They penetrate into “the Zone” where the dead walk around repeating the gestures they have made in life. It is a place, Cocteau writes, “made up of men’s memories and the ruins of their habits.”1
With a characteristic economy of means, Truffaut accomplishes a number of things with this intertextual musical quotation. The first is the temporary suspension of diegetic time which would be unequivocal to viewers familiar with Orphée—in the “Zone,” there is no time. Truffaut implicitly suggests that the deceased can be kept alive by memory, a memory which, in this case, is transmitted by a photograph. Here the filmmaker reopens the whole question of the relation of photography to death, memory, and the passage of time, about which there is a significant body of literature, from the writings of Siegfried Kracauer and Walter Benjamin to Roland Barthes. Secondly, the placement of the photograph among competing forms of representation that appear in the film (such as the wax model) raises the question of the relation of cinema itself to life and death, a question taken up as early as 1945 by Truffaut’s mentor André Bazin in his essay, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” The choice of the most efficient vehicle for returning the dead to life is a theme to be found, moreover, not only in the Henry James stories upon which Truffaut constructs his tale, but in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe (“The Oval Portrait”), Villiers de l’Isle Adam (“Véra”), and Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities).
As a myth that enacts the origin of art, the Orpheus story is one that Truffaut appropriately cites. In Greek mythology, Orpheus was the musician who managed to wrest his wife Eurydice from the powers of Hades (the underworld where spirits went after death) by charming the gods with his lyre. The gods stipulated that he could have her back on condition that he would not turn and look at her on his way back to earth. At a fatal moment, Orpheus fell victim to his curiosity and turned, thus losing Eurydice forever. The French critic Maurice Blanchot has argued that Orpheus’s decision to turn and look at Eurydice embodies that which is most at stake in art: the necessity to create life out of death, while at the same time consigning that life back to its inert origins in order to validate the artist.2 Edgar Allan Poe wrestled with the problem in “The Oval Portrait” (1842), the story of a painter whose portrait of his wife is so lifelike that it replaces the original—he paints the life right out of her, and she dies even as he applies the final brushstroke. In Poe’s ironic twist on the Orpheus tale, the artist has thus brought his beloved back from the dead even before she is deceased—only to lose her because of his art. Villiers de L’Isle Adam makes more traditional use of the myth in “Véra” (1874). There, the bereaved husband conjures up his departed wife by arranging things in their bedroom so that she still appears to live there. When she finally appears, he loses her again by exclaiming “But you are dead!”
Davenne’s initial strategy is similar to that of Villier’s s hero. In a room of his house (“the green room” of the title), he has carefully preserved relics of Julie: a model cast of Julie’s hand, a ring that belonged to her and which is molded into the symbol of infinity, as well as photographs and portraits. But the room is struck by lightning and Davenne has to rescue the precious relics from the flames.
It is while leaving the cemetery after his reverie that Davenne finds the solution to preserving the memory of his beloved. On his way out, he comes upon a chapel abandoned since the war (we are in the year 1930). He chooses this site as a place to honor the dead, his dead, as he puts it—those who have meant something to him. Around Julie’s photograph he now puts up others.
From James’s story “The Altar of the Dead,” Truffaut took the idea of the altar lit by candles, where each candle represents one of the hero’s dead friends. The photographs are an addition to the story, as is Davenne’s employment as a journalist whose main talent is writing obituaries. Another addition is the deaf and dumb child whom Davenne has adopted. The child becomes another symbol of Davenne’s devotion to the dead, in line with James’s suggestion that the dead are dumb, though still present (“They were there in their simplified essence, their conscious expressive patience, as personally there as if they had only been stricken dumb”). With this child, he looks at slides of soldiers killed during the First World War, a war in which the hero lost many of his friends.
At the auction of his deceased wife’s family estate, Davenne meets a young woman, Cecilia, who is instrumental in helping him secure Julie’s ring. It happens that they knew each other as children, during an archeological expedition to Pompeii. Instead of falling in love with her, Julien converts her to his cult of the dead, and introduces her to the chapel. Although the circumstance of their meeting is Truffaut’s addition, their relationship finds echoes in three stories by James. In “The Friends of the Friends,” the narrator breaks off her engagement when she realizes that her fiance is visited nightly by the ghost of a female friend (again, the ghost is said to be “dumb”); like Cecilia in Truffaut’s story, this friend had, during her lifetime, been visited by the ghost of her father at the time of his death. In “The Beast in the Jungle,” a man passes up a passionate relationship with a woman (whom he had also met at Pompeii some sixteen years earlier), only to realize after her death that to have loved her would have given meaning to his otherwise wasted life. And in “The Altar of the Dead,” the relationship between the two friends never blossoms into romance; James strongly suggests that the fault was the man’s, who failed to love life more than death.
Having secured in Cecilia an interlocutor for Julien, Truffaut strides into the heart of a mystery. For he has the hero invent stories about the people depicted on the wall, stories intended to convey to Cecilia a pathos so that she too will be able to identify with his loss. The mystery comes from the fact that while the photographs are those of people that no doubt meant much to Truffaut the filmmaker, the stories are completely invented (remember that we are in the year 1930, two years before Truffaut was born). Davenne tells a story about each of Truffaut’s friends, whose death is represented as occurring before the birth of the artist. One should bear in mind as well that the film audience could not be expected to know the real identity of all the authors, musicians, and filmmakers reproduced in the photographs. Ostensibly Truffaut’s purpose was something other than paying homage to his dead friends; some of the people depicted were still very much alive in 1978 when the film came out.
Passing in front of a photo of Raymond Queneau and Janine Queneau (Fig. 14) Davenne says:
They married in 1911, and during three years they were never separated, not for a day, not for an hour; and when he was called up by the army, she wanted to throw herself out the window; the neighbors prevented her. So he deserted in order to come back to her because he could no more do without her than she without him. They managed to reach Holland where they died, not long ago, a few years, a few days apart, like siamese twins.
The only true part of this story is the fact that Queneau (1908-1976) did not outlive his wife Janine (whom he married in 1928 after completing his military service in 1927) by more than a few years. Of Oscar Lewenstein, coproducer of Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black: “His name was Simon Jardine. He came from Ireland. During the 30 years he spent in our region the police and the courts had very little work. His reputation for honesty and logic was such that people who had disagreements preferred to have their conflicts resolved by him.”3 As he comments on the photographs of Oscar Werner (who played in Jules and Jim and Fahrenheit 451), Maurice Jaubert (whose music accompanies many of the scenes of this film), and Henry James, Davenne continues to tell stories. The point seems to be that the photograph cannot mean anything without the story that explains it.
Roland Barthes makes a similar point in Camera lucida, where he describes his search for that photograph of his mother which will best represent what she was for him. Having found it, he refuses to reproduce it for the reader; its special meaning, poignancy, punctum as he calls it, signifies only for him. He realizes that henceforth he must “interrogate the evidence of Photography, not from the viewpoint of pleasure, but in relation to what we romantically call Love and Death.”4 Walter Benjamin, too, who wrote a famous essay on the modern art work’s loss of aura through mechanical reproduction, was aware of the aura that a photograph can have;5 even though it is a reproduction to the extent that the idea of the “original” is not as strong as it is in painting, a photograph is the record of a specific moment in time. For this reason, an old photograph often conjures up an experience of the uncanny, the return of the familiar in the guise of the strange. This is what Barthes calls its spectrum. With the passage of time, the photograph of a person assumes the configuration of his or her history: under the photograph of a person, writes Siegfried Kracauer, the history of a human being is buried as under a cover of snow.6
A photograph functions in relation to a viewer; it is the starting point for a memory image. When Barthes discovers that a childhood photograph of his mother is in fact what he has been looking for all along, he has discovered what Kracauer calls her “monogram,” her best memory image.7
This is to say that photographs do not signify by themselves; perhaps more strongly than other texts and images, because apparently more removed from the vicissitudes of textuality, they underscore the intertextual nature of the construction of meaning. “It is not the human being that stands out from his photograph, “writes Kracauer, “but the sum of what can be subtracted from him . . . people’s traits are contained solely in their ‘history.’ ”8
What Davenne does with his narration is to construct a meaning for each picture—no matter that this is not the meaning that the photograph has for Truffaut himself (or for that matter, for any film spectator who may recognize the identity of the persons represented). Each is surrounded by a narrative.
Truffaut’s preference for narrative becomes clearer once we realize that his film is filled with multiple references to other filmmakers and to his own work. This was the third of Truffaut’s films in which he himself appeared in a major role. As Doctor Itard in L’Enfant sauvage (1969) he becomes the teacher of a deaf and dumb child who has grown up in the wild. His relationship with the child has some parallels to that of Davenne with the deaf and dumb youngster of La Chambre verte. Davenne’s obsession with preserving the memory of loved ones echoes the preservation of books by memorization in Fahrenheit 451 (1966); and his obsessive love of Julie recalls the obsession of Victor Hugo’s daughter in L’Histoire d’Adèle H (1975). The slides he looks at with his foster son recall the slide show in Jules et Jim (1961). And the film looks forward to Truffaut’s subsequent work as well: The initial title of the film, La Disparue, is the title of the play that Marion Steiner is performing in Le Dernier métro (1980).
The Cocteau quotations abound. Some of these are as subtle as a choice of style. When the young boy sneaks out at night, he is reflected by mirrors in the stairwell that recall the mirrors used in Orphée as entry into the “Zone.” The deserted street seems a timeless no-man’s land, much like Cocteau’s visualization of the underworld. Another mirror shot later in the film shows Davenne speaking to the doctor. The shot implies that Julien is already, somehow, “on the other side” or soon to be going there (in fact he dies shortly thereafter). The cemetery itself appears as a kind of “Zone.” A direct quotation occurs during the interrogation of Cecilia by Davenne’s boss. He says “Je crois que vous aimez cet homme,” a line from Cocteau’s judges of the underworld; and he sits, like Cocteau’s judges, before the accused.
Finally, the filmmaker pays tribute to his own history as a film viewer. Truffaut has said that his first awareness of the power of cinema to move an audience occurred at the projection of Abel Gance’s 1936 film Paradis perdu.9 In this film, a man commemorates his dead wife’s love by preserving mementos of their past in alcoves that look like little stages. At the end of the film, he gives up the idea of marriage to a young woman so that his daughter (who looks like her mother) can marry the man she loves. From his experience of this film, Truffaut may have taken the germ of the idea for La Chambre verte. Quotations of other filmmakers are in abundance. A shot of Davenne driving home in the rain quotes a shot from Hitchcock’s Psycho (Truffaut wrote a book on Hitchcock, whose influence on his style has been exhaustively studied).10
The most obvious intertext in the film seems to be the work of Cocteau. The presence of Cocteau is so strong that one suspects Truffaut of making this film in part to repay a long-standing debt to his predecessor. It was Cocteau who introduced Truffaut to Bazin, and Truffaut in his younger days was equally influenced by both. Eugene P. Walz has noted the influence of Cocteau’s style on Truffaut’s short story “Antoine et l’orpheline,” written in 1955.11 Truffaut also honored Cocteau in an essay appearing in the Cahiers du cinèma in 1954, for being one of the first French cinematic “authors.”12 A poster advertising Cocteau’s Le Testament d’Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus, 1959) appears in Truffaut’s La Peau douce (The Soft Skin, 1964).
The very fact that Truffaut achieves his effects through the devices of intertextuality suggests the terms of Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence; if La Chambre verte derives some of its hidden power from Orphée, in the manner of the “return of the dead” that Bloom calls apophrades, it also participates in its own “erasure,” since Truffaut imposes on himself a voluntary asceticism and paucity of means. This askesis, to retain the Bloomian figure, is consistent with the orphic theme itself, which mythically and historically is characterized by an ascetic philosophy. In the Greek myth, Orpheus was punished by Dionysus for defecting to the cult of Apollo. He was torn to pieces by the Maenads. The cult of Orphism in Greek times was characterized by vegetarianism, sexual abstention, and other austerities.13
Truffaut’s relation to Cocteau’s work in this film is a combination of two of the figures that Bloom has described in his attempt to trace the relation between major literary figures and their precursors. Basically, he argues that a strong poet inevitably has to wrestle with the influence of an important precursor. The struggle is always reflected in the new poet’s work. The result of Truffaut’s struggle with Cocteau is very much present in La Chambre verte; indeed the presence of Cocteau in this film is one of the elements that makes this a “film about film.”
In the preface to The Films in My Life Truffaut writes that as a filmmaker he demands that “a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema.”14 Truffaut’s earlier film about the making of a movie, La Nuit américaine (Day for Night, 1973), reflected some of the joy. Read as a film about film, La Chambre verte is more nearly about the anxiety (Truffaut’s own word was “angoisse,” or anguish). What one reviewer called the “morbid, unpleasant The Green Room”15 is the site of a struggle between Truffaut and his predecessor Cocteau, a struggle for self-definition and identity on the part of Truffaut that takes place on the difficult terrain of the filmmaker’s own relation to life, art, and death.16
To return to Bloom’s description of apophrades: this is the term he gives to that relation between a poet and a predecessor when “the new poem’s achievement makes it seem to us, not as though the precursor were writing it, but as though the later poet himself had written the precursor’s characteristic work.”17 It is as though, Bloom later writes, the earlier poet had at last found his true voice in the later.
In La Chambre verte Davenne speaks of “finishing off the figure” (“achever la figure”) by his own death—his array of candles will then be complete. And, unlike the James stories in which the male protagonists are all still living at the end, Davenne dies in the final moments of the film. The corpus of works Bloom invites us to imagine (a corpus in which this film would figure as the last of Cocteau’s films, just as Cocteau’s films would seem to have been filmed by Truffaut) is then complete.
There are difficulties in transposing Bloom’s terms to the cinema, if only because the visual style of a Cocteau or a Truffaut is so clearly that of its author. Yet in some ways La Chambre verte is Truffaut’s “remake” of Cocteau’s Le Testament d’Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus), a film made in 1960, three years before Cocteau’s death, and for which the young Truffaut was the co-producer. Truffaut’s film, like Cocteau’s, is made with the idea of leaving a legacy to the future. This legacy, while paying homage to the artists’ original sources of inspiration, addresses itself to the ultimate question for the artist: that of the importance of his art, the reason for his choosing art as his life’s work.
The idea of leaving a legacy for future generations of artists was Cocteau’s avowed reason for making the Le Testament d’Orphée. The Princess of Death comes back to question her maker Cocteau. What is film? she asks. Cocteau answers that film is “a spring that crystallizes thoughts . . . A film brings back to life our actions which have died. Film lends to the unreal the appearance of reality.” Dedication to art is worth dying for in Le Testament d’Orphée; at the end the poet is killed by the lance thrown by Minerva (Athena), the goddess of wisdom. Cocteau (who, like Truffaut, appears in the main role in his own film) demonstrates that the poet pays with his own life for his dedication to art. Truffaut does no less, ending his film with a mise-en-scene of Davenne’s last gasp. Yet in both films there is a joy in this self-immolation, an embracing of the poet’s fate that amounts to a celebration of the self. Truffaut’s film is a return to Cocteau’s themes, but one that stands proudly on the achievements of a lifetime. As Bloom writes, “apophrades, when managed by the capable imagination, by the strong poet who has persisted in his strength, becomes not so much a return of the dead as a celebration of the return of the early self-exaltation that first made poetry possible.”18
I have said that the relationship between Cocteau and Truffaut in this film is also one of askesis or asceticism. Bloom writes that in this type of relation, the later poet undergoes a voluntary impoverishment of his own means of expression and thereby strips the precursor of his endowment.19 We may opt to read this film as a subtle warning against the substitution of art for life, a self-criticism of Truffaut’s that implicitly accuses Cocteau as well.
Italo Calvino, in Invisible Cities, imagined a city doubled by a ghastly underworld. In Eusapia, the dead are transported to an identical subterranean copy of the city where they continue their former activities.20 In the end, the inhabitants cannot tell which is the city of the living and which is the city of the dead. Taken as an allegory of cinema, Calvino’s story suggests the danger that real life may become a second-hand experience dominated by our concern for how it fits our conventional representations of reality.
Truffaut has curtailed Cocteau’s vision by excluding from his film any visual representation of the uncanny, the ghostlike (he has also remarkably transformed James’s stories, published under the title “Tales of the Supernatural”). In the visual look of his film, he has turned his back on the surrealist devices that are Cocteau’s constant resource in Orphée. For instance, one of the most obvious intertexts to Cocteau’s film is that of the surrealist paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. De Chirico’s urban landscapes were celebrated by Breton and other surrealists for their ability to suggest the uncanny, the feeling of the return of something that had been repressed in the viewer’s unconscious. The brightly lit but bare exteriors look strangely like interiors; they are populated by red gloves, monumental artichokes, disembodied shadows—a series of recurring objects whose juxtaposition seems to hover at the edge of meaning. The paintings he did in 1913-14, such as “The Anxious Journey” (Fig. 15) and “The Song of Love” (Fig. 16), when seen in conjunction with Orphée, enable the spectator to reframe the film in terms of surrealist imagery, even though Cocteau himself was never an official member of the movement.21 The glove that the princess wears in order to traverse the mirror, and that Orpheus appropriates, recalls the one which occurs in many of these paintings, and the script specifies that it should be a red glove; Breton had reproduced “The Enigma of Fate” with its bright red glove in his first surrealist novel, Nadja (1928). In particular, there are scenes that seem largely inspired by the mood that permeates de Chirico’s urban landscapes. In one of these Orphée vainly pursues the princess through the deserted streets of Paris, from Montmartre to Les Halles to the Place Vendome (Fig. 17). The rapid editing translates him instantly from one distant place to another. The sense of emptiness, of anxiety, seems translated from the paintings onto film, as though Cocteau had found in the arcades of the Place Vendome the representation of something he remembered from de Chirico’s paintings. The same may be said of the film’s final shot in which Heurtebise and the princess are taken to their doom (Fig. 18).22
Against the exuberance of Cocteau’s surrealist style, Truffaut imposes strict, ascetic limitations to expression: his own atonal speech, his wooden acting style, the monochrome effect of what is supposedly a color film. Ironically, all these devices which make the spectator conscious of the cinematic apparatus end up highlighting the power of that cinema. Despite the laying bare of filmic devices, we remain involved in the narrative. The foregrounding of the apparatus necessarily brings us back to the still photograph, that unit of meaning that filmic perception occludes. As Stephen Heath writes: “Made of a series of stops in time, the timed stops of the discrete frames, film depends on that constant stopping for its possiblity of reconstituting a moving reality—a reality which is thus, in the very moment of appearance on screen, as the frames succeed one another, perpetually flickered by the fading of its present presence, filled with the artifice of its continuity and coherence.”23
Through his foregrounding of still photography, Truffaut suggests that the hidden desire of cinema all along has been immobility, as though images moved only in search of the one, ideal image. To find that image, however, would be to end all narrative—it would be the death of cinema. To put a memory into words is to lose it, Calvino’s Marco Polo tells the Emperor—therefore I will not speak of Venice. All his descriptions of cities tacitly assume Venice without naming it. The possibility of cinematic narrative depends on the not naming of Venice, on our not finding the one image that will make all the others unnecessary.24
What is the ontological relation of narrative to death, and does this ontology shift somewhat when we speak of cinematic narrative? Peter Brooks in Reading for the Plot argues that the death wish was Freud’s own masterplot for organic life, in the sense that the erotic and self-preservative drives are used in order to ward off the organism’s inappropriate death; death, as Freud explains in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, is what makes our lives meaningful and subjects for narration.25 Truffaut’s Davenne also argues that his chapel needs the completion of only one more candle—his own. His life’s meaning comes through the dead he has known; and his death will complete, in turn, the meaning of their lives. La Chambre verte shows the process of Davenne’s constructing a death meant especially for him, in such as way that his end will be placed before his beginning, in the kind of effacement of origins that Brooks discerns in Freud’s equation.26
Does the intertextual system of La Chambre verte reveal Truffaut to be a weak or a strong artist in relation to his precursor Cocteau? Certainly Truffaut’s conflicting ways of dealing with his predecessor betray the “anxiety of influence” that Bloom talks about. Looking retrospectively over the oeuvre of Truffaut, this conflict between the joyful affirmation of the power of cinema on the one hand, and, on the other, the ascetic impulse to simplify and strip down artistic expression to the minimum, seems characteristic of most of Truffaut’s films. The ascetic side is most often represented by characters who are writers or artists: Jules from Jules et Jim or the playwright Steiner in The Last Metro.
Despite the fact that Truffaut chooses to end La Chambre verte with the death of the artist, the power of cinema is never denied. Truffaut’s other mentor, Andre Bazin, is very much present in this film as well. Bazin, in “The Myth of Total Cinema,” wrote about the way cinema can arrest time, arguing that people recorded on film undergo a kind of “mummification” process—they are preserved in a timeless present. For Bazin, cinema was but the latest step in mankind’s progress toward creating the perfect illusion of reality. “Total cinema” would be a form of representation in which the real would no longer appear as artifact. The apparatus would become invisible.27
Truffaut’s testimonial to the power of his art is somewhat along these lines. On one point at least he corrects Cocteau and through that correction implicitly makes a stronger claim for the art of film than his predecessor. In Cocteau’s film, Orphée, who has been ordered not to look upon Eurydice, is frightened when he sees a photograph of her—he is sure he is about to lose her forever. No, explains Heurtebise, a photograph is not the same as the person. When he does lose her, it is because he sees her in the rear-view mirror of a car. What for Cocteau was an ontological difference between mirror image and photographed image is dissolved for Truffaut. Cocteau’s character Heurtebise explains to Orphée that one can see “death at work” in mirrors. His successor extends this to the photographic image.
Truffaut dramatizes the way in which a photograph may convey a greater sense of presence than the living person, if only because we are accustomed to perceive reality through conventions of representation. This could be the meaning of the title “la chambre verte” (the green chamber) which plays on the idea of “la chambre noire” or camera obscura. The photographic process, in our culture, is integral to our conception of life; thus it can be said to be green like a living plant. At the same time photographs and films make us conscious of the passing of time. While they are testimonials to life they are also proof of our own mortality. The mise-en-scene of Davenne’s demise seems particularly self-referential when we consider that Truffaut, like Davenne, was said to be a great writer of obituaries. In La Chambre verte Truffaut has left us his own “testament of Orpheus,” his own claim for the importance of his art and his defense of a life spent chasing down its fleeting shadows.