Film Review: Silken Skin

Having an affair rarely seems as hard work as it does in François Truffaut’s Silken Skin. The film is an entertaining drama, and possibly the best deterrent for those contemplating an extra-marital affair.

Esteemed editor and lecturer Pierre Lachenay lives in Paris with his wife Franca and young daughter Sabine. Travelling to a conference in Lisbon, Pierre meets Nicole, a beautiful air stewardess. Instead of just a one-night stand, the pair agree to reunite back in Paris…

Silken Skin is concerned with the harsh realities of having an affair, and not the romance of it. Truffaut emphasises the practical difficulties of a well-known man attempting to meet his mistress in secret. This affair is fraught with danger, from which there is an absence of excitement. The relationship between Pierre and Nicole is neither romantic nor erotic; it is hindered by complications and never seems like a sincere love.

Despite the negative portrayal of this affair, there is a distinct lack of guilt on the part of Pierre. While Pierre is concerned about getting caught, as well as about not seeing Nicole enough, he never seems too regretful about the fact that he is cheating on his wife. Although Silken Skin offers a pessimistic view of extra-marital affairs, it does so through its highlighting of the difficulties of carrying out the relationship, not the guilt of betraying a partner.

Where Silken Skin excels is the way in which Truffaut shifts the point of identification throughout the film. The audience does not identify with Pierre for the entire duration of Silken Skin. Instead, we also see events from the view of Nicole and Franca. Silken Skin is not simply a film about Pierre’s desire for Nicole and the trouble this brings. It also illustrates Nicole’s frustration at being hidden away in Reims, and Franca’s despair at her crumbling marriage.

The camera work in Silken Skin is excellent, and works well to help generate both tension and frustration. The film uses numerous shots of confined spaces, placing the camera in the backseat of the car or in the elevator along with the characters. This closeness heightens the sense of claustrophobia, symbolises the little personal space that Pierre and Nicole are able to share.

Jean Desailly offers a competent performance as Pierre. He portrays the character not as an abhorrent cheat, but as a middle-aged man who is tempted by a beautiful woman. Nelly Benedetti brings passion and a sense of frenzy to Franca, while Françoise Dorléac is stunning as Nicole. Philippe Dumat lightens the tone as the oblivious cinema director in Reims.

Not considered Truffaut’s finest film, Silken Skin nevertheless is a cautionary tale well worth watching.

Silken Skin is being screened at the British Film Institute from 4th February 2011 as part of the François Truffaut season.

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