Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Steven Spielberg

Starring

François Truffaut Richard Dreyfuss Teri Garr

Anticipation.

One of The Beard’s early blockbuster behemoths returns.

Enjoyment.

It’s a big ol’ mess of a movie, but an extremely lovable one.

In Retrospect.

Watch out for Truffaut’s smile.

Don’t miss this newly restored director’s cut version of Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi opus.

The greatest shot in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind isn’t the big ol’ glitterball mothership finally parking up on Earth to perform its dazzling prog rock light show. It’s not loonbag Richard Dreyfus building a giant termite mound in his living room (couldn’t he have done that outside?), the result of an image planted into his subconscious that consumes his waking hours.

The shot can be found early on in the film, during a sequence in which a group of what appear to be paranormal scientists are trying to explain away a miracle – a fleet of World War Two fighter planes that, for decades, were considered missing, have re-appeared in the Sonoran Desert. Upholding the standards of their trade they search for any possible answer, but remain fully aware of the exciting intergalactic ramifications if they don’t happen to find one.

The lead scientist, Claude Lacombe, is played by none-other than French new wave director, François Truffaut – a rare but valuable late career run-out as an actor. His character is not entirely dissimilar to the one he plays in his own Day for Night from 1973, a harried movie director attempting to corral people towards the collective goal of creating art.

There is a lone witness to this “event”, an elderly hispanic gentleman who has a real bad case of sunburn. Lacombe is introduced to this man who is sat on a bench. He looks confused, not realising what has happened or what he has seen. Lacombe kneels down to the level of the witness so he can look him in the eye. His first gesture isn’t a scowl or an angry bark – the cinematic clichés of modern interrogation. He offers a soft smile and quickly wins the affections of this confused gentleman.

This isn’t a big, beaming, sentimental smile, the kind which would suggest that Lacombe is pitying the man, or worse, profiling him, dismissing him as a mad old fool. It’s a small, gentle half-smile, the type which betrays honesty and earns instant empathy. The man knows it’s okay to talk, to reveal exactly what it is he saw. But maybe the smile is something else? Is it Lacombe realising that this is it, the moment where his life’s work suddenly meets with some kind of closure, or at least passes on to an unexpected new phase. It’s a smile of accord, but also of barely-concealed enthusiasm.

This may seem like an trivial gesture, but it it fact tees up much of what the film ends up being about. Lacombe communicates through a translator (played by Bob Balaban) and Close Encounters is a work which asks if we can connect with other people – other beings – in a way which transcends language. Unlike so many other movies about alien visitation, this is a rare example of one which espouses friendliness over aggression. It’s simple message is that it is always better to begin a conversation with a smile.

Close Encounters screens at BFI Southbank from 27 May until 9 June. To find out more visit parkcircus.com

Published 25 May 2016

Tags: François Truffaut Steven Spielberg

Anticipation.

One of The Beard’s early blockbuster behemoths returns.

Enjoyment.

It’s a big ol’ mess of a movie, but an extremely lovable one.

In Retrospect.

Watch out for Truffaut’s smile.

Read More

The films of Steven Spielberg ranked – part one

By Little White Lies

We take stock of the (nearly) complete directorial oeuvre of one of modern cinema’s true masters.

How Midnight Special channels the cosmic force of Starman

By Katherine McLaughlin

Jeff Nichols’ new film maps a similar thematic route to John Carpenter’s classic 1984 sci-fi.

In defence of Hook – Steven Spielberg’s grown-up ode to childhood

By James Clarke

Does the director’s take on JM Barrie’s classic tale of arrested development deserve its reputation?

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, LWLies has been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design