|(French poster for The 400 Blows)|
|(Actor Jean-Pierre Leaud)|
The 400 Blows was released in 1958. Truffaut was 27 and already in full form as a powerhouse filmmaker. What's astonishing about this film is it's simplicity and how engaging that simplicity is. The star is Jean-Pierre Leaud (playing 12 year-old Antoine Doinel), and the locations are his hovel of an apartment, the school he attends, and the chilly streets of Paris. Nothing in this film is done out of manipulation, no pandering or catering to baser instincts. What I found as a viewer, was not a depressing or morose portrait of a disparaged youth, but an exciting and heartbreaking adventure. I was spellbound.
The film opens with a series of moving shots around Paris accompanied by charming and whimsical classical music, as if we were in a car watching the city float by and perhaps anticipating meeting the characters that inhabit it. After these shots of magnificent buildings, homes, streets, and busy commerce the film takes us directly into a boring classroom where we meet Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud). Shot in black and white, the film draws us in to the world of young Antoine and never do we leave his viewpoint. Our first glance of him is an over the shoulder shot, at three quarter view and we don't really get a close up until 15 minutes into the film, where he stands dejected and looks to the side of the camera. The filming of Antoine is important because the camera simply seems to observe him and everyone else he engages with. As an audience we have "dropped in" to observe without judgement. From school, Antoine journeys to a small apartment with his parents who are busy being unaware and disconnected. His mother is trying to look young and is having an affair. His stepfather tries to be "one of the guys" with Antoine, talking casually and not knowing exactly how to be a father. The next day Antoine and a fellow classmate meet while both skipping school and together they wander the streets eventually passing the day at a movie theater. Truffaut takes care in holding on the shot of young Antoine being hypnotized by the movie screen. The director said that this film was taken from his own life and that cinema saved him from a life of crime.
|(Director Francois Truffaut and his lead actor)|
|(Antoine with his mother and stepfather)|
The 400 Blows was a huge success at the 1959 Cannes film festival, where the unknown actor Jean-Pierre was paraded on the shoulders of the prestigious French audience. The 400 Blows also began a brilliant career for Francois Truffaut who's following films continued to be brave and unrepentant in their honesty, yet playful and entertaining in their celebration of humanity. Truffaut's complicated love triangle Jules and Jim (1962) is also noted among the most influential films of the French New Wave. Both Jules and Jim and The 400 Blows are streaming now on Hulu!
|(Jean-Pierre being praised at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival)|