The problem, according to an essay by François Truffaut included in the lovingly restored Criterion edition of the film, was the film's dialogue, written by Jean Cocteau. Cocteau was one of cinema's true poets (the best of his own films - Blood of a Poet, Orpheus, Beauty and the Beast - are among the most magical ever made). But it seems likely that French audiences, having been living under the heel of the Nazi occupation, were not particularly receptive to such rarified, wildly sophisticated banter. "Why are you leaving?" one character asks another. "I hate the piano," her friend petulantly replies. Another woman greets a gentleman caller thusly: "I cannot receive you, come in." Receiving a gift, this same gentleman remarks that he loves gold; "It's warm, cold, light, dark, incorruptible." And very urbane.
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The film is expected to continue without Mendes' involvement.