August 1965, to Helen Scott, who has just made the acquaintance of Rossellini and has completely returned, even if as usual she jokes, François Truffaut writes: “The truth is that I fall in love with people through movies, while you are the opposite.” Another random letter. Truffaut, in 1968, while he was waiting for the Reunion team the Mississippi Mermaid : “Dear Scott, write to me at the typewriter, the sooner the better and the longer because I have nothing to read. I kiss you as I love you and I send you my best hitch-rascal looks. ”
Who is Helen Scott, apart from the interpreter of the famous Hitchcock-Truffaut interviews in 1962? In the Correspondence by François Truffaut, edited at Hatier by Gilles Jacob in 1988, four years after the filmmaker’s death, the letters he addressed to him stood out and formed a whole apart: with her, Truffaut was voluble, confident, natural and playful . The book is dedicated to the memory of Helen Scott. The American Friend : this is the title chosen by Serge Toubiana, former director of the Cinémathèque to evoke the one who dedicated her life to helping and loving her “Darling truffle”, from their meeting in New York in 1960.
In January, that year, he will be 28 years old, and has just finished filming Shoot the pianist. His first movie, the four hundred Blows, prize for directing at Cannes in 1959, was released in the United States. Truffaut comes to the invitation of the Critics’ Circle to receive the prize for the best foreign film. He does not speak English, and will never speak it. Scott is bilingual, she lived in France between 8 and 17 years old, and has kept, in addition to the use of the language, a nostalgia for all that is French. She is 45 years old. After a decade of hassle, blacklisted because of her communist engagement, harassed by the FBI, she has finally found a job that suits her. She directs public relations at the French Film Bureau in New York. She promotes the young representative of the New Wave (before placing herself in the service of others, Godard, Resnais, etc.), accompanies him everywhere, and in particular makes him meet Lillian Ross, influential critic of the New Yorker. Cultured woman Helen Scott preferred music to movies. With Truffaut, she begins to see films differently. It is no exaggeration to say that she has found meaning in her life. Twenty-four years of intimacy ensued, with some volcanic episodes that Toubiana lets us glimpse. To really appreciate their relationship, the complete cross-correspondence of these two remarkable letter-writers should be published.
Helen Scott was born Helen Reswick in 1915 to Jewish parents. His father is a Ukrainian who arrived in America in 1904. Seduced by the revolution of 1917, he set out again in 1922, as press correspondent in Moscow, and settled woman and children in Nice, then in Paris, halfway between the United States. United and the USSR, whose political development he actively follows. “It was only after the death of my father that I realized that he was right to insist by saying that Stalin was a murderer, a heresy for which I refused to speak to him for fifteen years” (letter to Truffaut in 1981).
“Our only common point is our rotten childhood and our lamentable adolescence” (letter to Scott one day after a falling out). Helen Reswick is a rebellious child who leaves school at 14. Returning to the United States in 1932, she worked for a workers’ union. Was it, in 1940, a Soviet agent? It’s possible. Until 1943 she was the collaborator of Geneviève Tabouis, a renowned journalist who was not unanimous among the Gaullists in New York, but who created a weekly in the service of Free France. Helen Reswick married in 1941 to acquire the name Scott. In 1943, still on the side of free France, Helen Scott embarked on the adventure of Radio Brazzaville. In 1945 she was press secretary in Nuremberg, then she joined the UN, from where she was fired in 1948 because of her communist activities. She loses her passport.
Helen Scott did not have an easy life, and Truffaut was generous with her. Scott: “Despite the difference in age and ideas, and knowing nothing of my past, you” recognized “me and I was very touched by it.” Self-denigrating (what Toubiana calls her “lucidity”), she said she filled her “Role of slave to the satisfaction of all my masters”. Truffaut: “But to work so much for others should not make you lose sight of the fact that you are a great spirit […]. ” Scott is bulimic, hypertensive, addicted to amphetamines. Toubiana, who is neither a novelist nor a psychologist, insists on her physique. “Helen was small, fat”, remembers a UN colleague. “It was big and scared people a little”, says the successor to the French Film Office in 1965, when Scott left to watch the filming of Fahrenheit 451, before settling down definitively in Paris.
The American Friend is full of stories about films, those that are made, those that could have been made and succulent, tender and nasty portraits of Jacques Demy, Roman Polanski, Elie Wiesel. Truffaut is right: Scott has talent. Once in Paris, she receives visiting Americans, continues to play go-between, becomes interested in Milos Forman, becomes friends with Claude Berri and producer Jean-Pierre Rassam. Pressed to write her autobiography, she says she’s losing her memory. Truffaut died at 52 years of age, October 21, 1984. Scott was found dead at home, at 72 years of age, October 20, 1987. At the time of “Hitchbook”, she summed up their duo: “I may have been born to complement you. (Let the others compliment you!) “
The American Friend
Stock, 346 pp., 20 €.